PHOENIX – Throwing a kid out there against the Americans at the World Baseball Classic worked in 2006 when Adam Loewen threw 3.2 shutout innings, in 2009 when Phillippe Aumont struck out the side with the bases loaded and in 2013 when Jameson Taillon allowed one earned run in four frames.
It didn’t work with a gutsy but wild Mitch Bratt this time around, and for the first time in Pool C play at Chase Field, a game actually went to expectation, much to the chagrin of the Canadians.
Still, Monday night’s 12-1 mercy-rule drubbing before a crowd of 29,621 wasn’t a total shock for the national team, nor a total disaster either.
Victories on Tuesday against Colombia (1-1), when Philadelphia Phillies prospect Noah Skirrow starts against indy-ball lefty Adrian Almeida, and Wednesday against Mexico (1-1) would still be enough to push Canada (1-1) into the quarter-finals – and they weren’t going to push their chips in for a game they were always going to have a tough time winning.
Not that it was the plan, and counterintuitive as it might be, getting mercy-ruled in seven innings is better than losing in nine because it preserved more bullpen arms for the games that matter.
“We were definitely trying to save some arms, there’s no question,” said Canada manager Ernie Whitt. “And it’s tough to bounce back from a nine spot in the first inning. And let me just put it this way: no one likes to get beat, all right? I’m ticked off that we got beat. But we got beat by a pretty good team over there.
“So, I’m not worried about that. I keep telling myself, our goal was to advance. We can advance with not worrying about the run differential (in a tiebreak scenario) if we win the next two games.”
The hope, of course, was that Bratt, a 19-year-old Texas Rangers prospect yet to pitch above low-A but on a big-league trajectory, could spot his fastball, keep the Americans (2-1) off-balance with his slider and changeup, and hold things in reach for a couple of innings.
But Mookie Betts laced his second pitch into right field at 102.6 mph, walks to Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt followed and then Nolan Arenado ripped a two-run double down the right-field line at 109.5 mph. A Kyle Tucker sacrifice fly to left at 98.3 mph was Bratt’s only out, Tim Anderson walked and J.T. Realmuto followed with an RBI single at 107.6 mph.
That ended his night and while it wasn’t the start Bratt wanted, obviously, the experience will only help him on the way up. His maturity is one reason the Canadian coaching staff felt he could give them a chance, and learn from the outing if he didn’t.
“I’m pretty disappointed in myself with how everything went. I could have put the team in a better position and done better myself, just throwing more strikes,” said Bratt. “The game plan going in was to trust my stuff. I didn’t really do a good job of that. …
“Next time out, this is all a building block for new experiences to come.”
R.J. Freure took over, induced a run-scoring fielder’s choice from Trea Turner, allowed a run-scoring triple to Cedric Mullins, walked Betts and then served up a majestic three-run shot to Trout to make it 9-0 before the inning mercifully ended.
The result was cast in stone at that point, and while Jared Young opened the second with a solo shot off Lance Lynn to try to pick up the Canadians, Freure did some of the most important work, logging 2.2 frames to help save the bullpen.
“We needed some energy back and I said to myself, ‘Take the first pitch and let’s settle down a little bit.’ He threw a ball, and then I was like, ‘All right, it’s go time now’ and luckily I was able to put a good swing on it,” said Young. “Needed a lot more of that tonight, but we’ve got a lot more baseball to play in a short amount of time.”
Indigo Diaz pitched a clean fourth and recorded two outs in the fifth before being pulled at 27 pitches to keep him eligible for the games ahead. Loewen, back with the national team for one last go, took over and escaped the fifth after Arenado flew out to deep centre with two runners on and then struck out Tucker to open the sixth before Cade Smith got the final two outs.
“It was amazing, I never expected to have a chance to compete at this level again,” Loewen said of climbing back up to the mound. “To do it for my country is always an honour and privilege. The bottom line is we want to advance for the first time, so let’s find a way to do that. It’s great to enjoy these moments, but we want to pitch better as a whole and give our offence a chance to hit.”
For the Americans, the rout restored some order after they suffered an 11-5 beating by Mexico on Sunday night. At 2-1, they control their own fate and a win over Colombia in their finale Wednesday punches their ticket into the quarter-finals.
“We’ll be ready to go and understand the magnitude of that game,” said U.S. manager Mark DeRosa. “For us, with some of the stipulations and parameters that we’re playing under to protect certain pitchers, or your entire pitching staff, really, we needed to reset in a big way. And Lance provided it.”
The Americans started the tournament off with a closer-than-expected 6-2 win against Great Britain (1-2) before being outclassed by Mexico. The Brits, pounded 18-8 in seven innings by Canada on Sunday, then rallied to beat Colombia 7-5 Monday afternoon, underlining how every day is really a new one at the Classic.
The Canadians need to prove exactly that Tuesday against Colombia.