PUERTO RICO RALLIES AND STAY ALIVE
MIAMI – Playing against established baseball powers like the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in its last two games, Team Italy led by two runs going into the seventh inning. Both times it allowed three-run rallies late to lose by a run, and now it’s out of the World Baseball Classic.
CLASSIC MATCHUP: USA, Dominican Republic set for clash Whether such hard-fought losses represents progress for Italian baseball is hard to tell, considering most of its players are from elsewhere. For nearly half its roster – 13 players out of 28 – the connection to the mother land is no closer than a great-grandparent.
But what’s irrefutable is Italy had a legitimate shot at staying alive in this second round of the WBC, perhaps even advancing to the semifinals, and wasting that opportunity deeply pained its players and coaching staff.
WBC: Bigger than Team USA Down 3-1 in the eighth, Puerto Rico rallied for three runs to stun the Italians in a 4-3 win Wednesday night, living to play at least one more game in the WBC.
The go-ahead run scored when shortstop Jack Santora bounced his throw to first on Andy Gonzalez’s infield single with two outs, allowing Alex Rios to scamper home from second. Santora was in the game because starting shortstop Anthony Granato had misplayed three sixth-inning grounders – two were ruled errors, the other one an infield hit – helping Puerto Rico score its first run.
On Tuesday, Italy had squandered a 4-0 first-inning lead as the Dominican Republic scored three in the seventh on the way to a 5-4 win. “It’s really hard to say anything right now,” manager Marco Mazzieri said when asked what his team’s showing did for baseball in Italy. “I’m not thinking about how this is going to develop baseball.” The next big step might be developing a homegrown shortstop, because both Granato and Santora are in their 30s, and neither one is actually from Italy. Granato hails from Canada and Santora from California. With their mish-mash of players of various connections to the old country, Team Italy still became the tournament’s darling by upsetting Mexico and Canada to reach the second round for the first time in three WBC appearances.
It seemed on its way to hanging around at least until Friday when pitchers Alessandro Maestri and Chris Cooper made Anthony Rizzo’s three-run double in the fifth hold up through seven innings. “We had a lead in every game we played in this tournament,” said Rizzo, the Chicago Cubs’ starting first baseman. “I think the respect that we earned at this tournament is well deserved for the entire country of Italy.”
Whoever was paying attention there was likely to lament an eighth inning in which Puerto Rico turned a walk, three singles, a sacrifice fly and Santora’s errant throw into the winning rally. It wasn’t all Italy’s doing, though. Rios’ daring baserunning forced the action, and Rizzo could not pick up the ball cleanly and throw home.
Much like the Dominicans in the seventh inning the previous day, the Puerto Ricans spilled out of the dugout in joy to greet Rios. “There’s a lot of emotion when you’re representing your country,” Rios said. “You have a lot of pride, and every time you take the field you do it with a lot of passion so fans can enjoy it. “In that situation we had to be aggressive. He bobbled the ball and we scored. That’s what happens when you’re aggressive and do things in an intelligent way.”
And it helps when the other team throws a break or three your way.