PHOENIX — Team USA was on the ropes earlier this week after Mexico delivered it an upset blow in Pool C of the World Baseball Classic. Uncertainty swirled around the Americans’ chances of advancing to the next round.
Facing doubt, the United States charged to a convincing win over Canada in seven innings to leave the door open and set up a must-win scenario Wednesday at Chase Field. Then the “home” team shut the door on Colombia with a 3-2 win to advance to the quarterfinals, as fans belted out a familiar chant that could be heard from all parts of the stadium.
“USA!, USA!, USA!”
“We’ve been grinding,” outfielder Mike Trout said after Team USA punched its ticket to Miami, where it will face Venezuela Saturday in the single-elimination quarterfinal game.
“Sometimes early in camp, you don’t have your timing. And then you put the work in in the cages and during (batting practice) just to try to find it. And that’s what we’ve been doing. And the timing’s been good the last couple of games.”
Trout is one of the driving forces behind Team USA’s success. In Wednesday’s elimination game, the All-Star slugger knocked in all three runs while going 3-for-4 with a triple and two singles. He leads the team in RBI with six through four games, while having an on-base percentage of .588.
For Trout, this is nothing new.
He’s considered one of the best, if not the best, players in the league for the better half of a decade now. Some fans are still surprised by his consistent performances, while his teammates and coaches already knew that this was a likely outcome.
U.S. manager Mark DeRosa called Trout “one of the greatest players of all time” after his performance against Colombia, while his teammate Mookie Betts sees him for more than his on-field contributions.
“He’s just a normal dude,” Betts said. “Obviously, we all know the baseball side of it, but just getting in the clubhouse with him and just doing simple things like going to eat together. You get to know someone. And now I don’t even really pay attention to the baseball thing. I just look at him as my boy and I’m just out there playing with my boy and he just happens to be Mike Trout.”
Because of Trout’s performances so far, other players on the team could be overlooked through the first four games of the WBC.
That is not the case for shortstop-turned-second baseman Tim Anderson, who has been one of the best players on the roster beside Trout. In fact, he and Trout are the only two players on the U.S. team with a stolen base.
Anderson is tied for second on the team in RBI with four, with a .417 on-base percentage. However, the story with him has been his ability to play second base. As a member of the Chicago White Sox, Anderson has only played shortstop, and when DeRosa decided to put Anderson at second after the loss to Mexico, Anderson embraced it.
“D-Ro (DeRosa) just asked me, and I was open to it,” Anderson said. “It’s really not the first time I’ve played on the other side of the bag. When the shift was allowed I stayed on that side. It’s a matter of just getting comfortable, and I was able to complete the task.”
One of the main reasons Anderson, a two-time All-Star, joined Team USA was to promote his status from star to superstar.
So far, so good.
“I’m always out to prove something,” Anderson said. “Just to be among some of the greats. I just get a chance for the world to see what kind of athlete I am and also the guys get to know what kind of person I am, a human being. I’m just very thankful and blessed for this opportunity.”
The unsung hero, or heroes, have come from the bullpen.
After Merill Kelly was pulled in the third inning after surrendering two runs, six different pitchers came out to keep a one-run lead alive. Kendall Graveman started off in the 4th, then the keys were handed down to Daniel Bard, David Bednar, Jason Adams, Devin Williams, and Ryan Pressley.
Six pitchers, six innings, zero runs.
“I thought – I mean, God, could they have done better?” DeRosa said. “Devin Williams threw one pitch during the entire pool play and looked like midseason form out there. David Bednar’s heater is exploding. Jason Adams has electric weapons to go to. It was nice to see Bard bounce back. And Pressly’s been in the biggest moments in the big leagues in the last, seems like, five, six years. So just awesome domination and execution by those guys.”
The win over Columbia gave the U.S. a 3-1 record and booked a ticket to Miami, where they take on a Venezuela team that went 4-0 as underdogs in Pool D.
Salvador Perez, Anthony Santander, Eugenio Suarez and David Peralta have combined for 20 of Venezuela’s 23 RBI. They also have Ronald Acuña Jr. and Jose Altuve, two stars in the MLB.
Win or lose on Saturday, Team USA has put on performances at Chase Field over the past week that fans and even the players won’t soon forget.
“The last few nights it’s been fun baseball for me,” Trout said. “It’s fun to go out there and play with the guys and have the crowd behind you like that, chanting “USA” in the ninth. When you run out of the dugout it’s special.”
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