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THE US KEEPS WRIGHT ON WINNING

BY LUIGUI BARRAGAN

Photo by Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The last game for the United States in the 2013 World Baseball Classic had the feel of a Game 7.  That type of intense, playoff baseball reserved for October.  But the calendar does in fact still read March and the “newness” of Spring is just a week away.  The U.S., having survived what third baseman David Wright called “a true Game 7″ against Canada on Sunday afternoon, now had new life, facing Puerto Rico, in the second round of the WBC.  A new round, a new city (from Arizona to Miami), a new venue (from Chase Field to Marlins Park), and, what stood out the most, a new way to begin a ballgame, with the lead.  The first inning of the second round for the U.S. was destined to go scoreless like most early innings for the Americans in round one of this tournament.  But with two out in the first frame, Team USA catcher Joe Mauer doubled to deep, left-center field.  The ball rolled all the way to the wall, allowing left fielder, and former University of Miami standout, Ryan Braun to score all the way from first base.  The U.S. drew first blood for the first time in this World Baseball Classic.

Looking to pad its lead, the U.S. loaded the bases in the third with one out and Wright in the batter’s box.  Wright had already been in this situation once before in this tournament, making the most of it by connecting on a Grand Slam that gave the U.S. its first win of this WBC.  This time, however, “Captain America’s” bat couldn’t get the ball out of the infield, thanks, for the most part, to the nifty glove work of Puerto Rican shortstop Mike Aviles.  Aviles kept the ball from squirting through to the outfield and thus kept the Americans from adding more than one run to their lead.

Wright would get another crack at a bases loaded opportunity in the fifth inning.  This time, Wright made sure to hit the ball as far away from Aviles as he possibly could, shooting the ball instead into right field, scoring Jimmy Rollins for Team USA’s third run of the night.

The opportunities were there for the Americans, especially for Wright, to score runs in bunches, but tonight, at least through seven innings, runs for Team USA were scattered just as much as hits allowed were by starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez.  Gonzalez, born in nearby Hialeah, gave the hometown fans plenty to cheer about.  Gonzalez pitched five innings, giving up only three hits and no runs while striking out five.  Wright credited Gonzalez for “setting the tone early.”  According to Wright, Gonzalez’s dominance of the Puerto Rican hitters started building the momentum that carried over for Team USA on offense.  “He got us in the dugout quick.  We didn’t have to play too long on defense, and we just kept putting runners on base and putting ourselves in at-bats with runners in scoring position,” Wright said.

Yet, through seven innings, the U.S. offense seemed to be marching to the tone of a slow beating drum, managing only four runs and leaving a total of eleven men stranded on base.  “We haven’t been really swinging the bats great with runners in scoring position,” admitted Braun.  “But up-and-down the line-up, obviously, we have so much talent, so much ability that if we continue to put ourselves in a position to score runs eventually we know that somebody will come through.”

With one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, David Wright came through, yet again, for Team USA.  For the third time in this game, Wright dug in with the bases loaded.  Down to his last strike, Wright went after a sinking pitch destined for the dirt.  Wright’s bat beat the mitt of the catcher to the ball and sent it soaring to right-center field.  Puerto Rican centerfielder Angel Pagan gave chase but couldn’t quite get there in time to make the catch.  The ball traveled the required distance to escape the grasp of Pagan, allowing all three American base runners to score.  The U.S. now had the distance it wanted on the scoreboard as well.  Captain America’s offensive heroics led Team USA to victory again, this time by a score of 7-to-1.  “We’re winning and that’s the important thing,” said Wright after the game.  “Obviously it’s nice to get hits, it’s nice to drive runs in, but the important thing is hearing those USA chants and get a chance to win games and high-five afterwards.  The individual stuff is nice, but ultimately it’s about winning that first WBC championship for the United States.”

Thanks to David Wright the United States is one step closer to making that dream a reality.

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