PUERTO RICO, ITALY MEET WITH ELIMINATION ON LINE
By Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — The time for urgency is now for Italy and Puerto Rico.
Each squad lost on Tuesday night in their respective Round 2 opener of the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park, setting up an elimination matchup on Wednesday. Both teams have enjoyed a fun-filled ride in the Classic, celebrating memorable wins to reach this point.
But now is the time to win or go home. Puerto Rico fell to Team USA, 7-1, on Tuesday night. In the afternoon, the Dominican Republic rallied to a 5-4 victory over Italy. For the 7 p.m. ET game Wednesday on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes, Puerto Rico is starting Giancarlo Alvarado. Italy is turning to Alessandro Maestri.
Rather than get caught up in the high stakes, Team Puerto Rico is focused on the moment. “In this tournament, every game is very important,” Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “If you go inside our clubhouse, everyone is up. They’re still battling. They’re still talking about, let’s get them tomorrow. “From Day One, when we started working out in Fort Myers, we established our philosophy of taking it one day at a time. So it’s one day at a time. We lost today. We’re going to turn the page, and concentrate on tomorrow. That’s what we’re going to be doing [Wednesday].”
Puerto Rico was held in check by tough pitching from Team USA, which won behind All-Star left-hander Gio Gonzalez. The level of pitching Puerto Rico will face on Wednesday will be a bit different. Maestri is a former farmhand in the Cubs’ system who never reached the big leagues. But being overmatched on paper is nothing new for Italy. Not given much of a chance, Italy claimed a four-run, first inning lead over a powerful Dominican Republic team.
To many, Italy’s success is surprising. The country known as a world power in soccer doesn’t get the recognition in baseball. But those wearing the blue and white for Italy are not stunned. About half the team has been together for a while, and they’ve enjoyed international success. “In the last few years, we’ve been winning a lot,” Italian manager Marco Mazzieri said. “We’ve been traveling a lot around the world.” Italy beat Chinese Taipei in 2010 for the bronze medal in the Intercontinental Cup. In the process, the Italians beat Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei. “This is a team that now plays not scared,” Mazzieri said. “We just respect everybody, but we know what we can do and we’re focused on that.”
Maestri, a 27-year-old right-hander born in Italy, was released by the Cubs in 2011. He spent last year pitching in Japan. “I’m ready,” Maestri said. “It doesn’t really matter who the team is going to be. It’s up to me. I’ve got to do my job. I am going to go out there and just try to keep the game as close as I can for the team.” In Tuesday’s loss, the Italians had just four hits. They were opportunistic with the first one, which was a three-run homer in the first inning by Chris Colabello.
Colabello, in the Twins’ system, has enjoyed a strong Classic. He added a three-run homer and four RBIs in a 14-4 win over Canada in the first round in Phoenix. “My biggest goal every time I go on the baseball field is to try to help my team win a baseball game,” Colabello said. “I think if you focus too much on your personal stuff, it has a tendency to get in the way of your ability to succeed as an individual. “That being said, I’m just trying to put good swings on the baseball. You go out there every day, trying to win a baseball game. That’s the fun part of the game, especially in a tournament like this.”