Italy wasted no time in their tie-breaking match-up with Venezuela jumping on the board early. In the bottom of the 1st Daniel Descalso singled to right allowing John Andreoli to score. The teams would spend the next four innings in a pitching standoff with neither team allowing a run.
Free agent A.J. Morris pitched the WBC equivalent of a no-no for Italy with five innings of scoreless, hitless baseball striking out five and walking just one. In the first round of the tournament pitchers are limited to just 65 pitches in any game. Morris threw 62.
In the top of the 6th Morris took a seat and Venezuela finally found their way onto the board when the centerfielder, Ender Inciarte, singled to right. The ball was deflected on the cutoff and the man who plays to his right, Odubel Herrera, who had reached base on an error, scored. That left it all tied up at one.
At the end of the 7th Italy would be leading once more thanks to a solo homer by centerfielder John Andreoli, his third in the Classic.
Leading off the 9th for the Venezuelan team was veteran first baseman Miguel Cabrera. With 14 years in the game and a lifetime batting average of .321 to show for it, his is not the face you’re hoping to see in a tight situation like this unless your someone like Mike DeMark. Then, it’s just another day at the park. The righty has 10 years on the mound with a lifetime 3.23 ERA. Cabrera won their matchup with a solo homer hit hard just right of the centerfielder. Victor Martinez waited patiently at the plate before taking a walk to first then the coach headed to the mound for a chat with DeMark while Venezuela placed Vangervis Solarte on first to pinch run for Victor Martinez.
The break settled DeMark a bit but it wouldn’t be enough to stop another run from scoring. Rougned Odor went to a full count against the pitcher and fouled off several to stay alive before singling deep to center, allowing Solarte to round home. That put Venezuela ahead for the first time in the game, forcing a bottom of the 9th. On the play the umpire initiated a home run review but the call was upheld. So, with no outs and a man on first Venezuela took the lead and coach headed to the mound to ask DeMark for the ball. Frailyn Florian took over.
The lefty started his portion of the inning facing off against RF Carlos González who was 0-2 on the day heading into the at bat. González singled to left moving Odor to third. The rightfielder was thrown out trying to take 2nd on the run by Drew Maggi played some heads up defense getting the ball to Descalso at 2nd. One away. Alcides Escobar bunted to Florian for the sacrifice, sending Odor home for the insurance run and the score was Venezeula 4. Italy 2. That would be all they could do however with Italy’s defense shutting the rally down.
The final at bats for Italy started at the bottom of the order with Liddi, Cecchini and Maggi stepping up to the plate. Don’t be fooled by the lineup though. Liddi took one strike before sending the second pitch out of the park and, just like that, it was back to a one run ball game. Cecchini and Maggie both grounded out, and just as quickly, Italy was left with one out to stay in it and the top of their order at the plate. John Andreoli, who was already 2-4 on the day, faced off against Venezuela’s closer Francisco Rodriguez. He followed his teammates with a grounder to third and the game was over. Final score 4-3. Venezuela sends Italy home for good this time as they advance to the 2nd round of the World Baseball Classic.
Venezeula’s pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts against Italy but the game-deciding run can be traced back to a small fielding error in the 6th by Descalso on a throw to 2nd. That was all Venezuela needed to capitalize on the mistake and keep the game from going into extra innings. It’s not to say that Descalso is to blame for the loss. Baseball is a team sport and a lot of other things had to happen to turn that error into a run. With four errors in as many games for Italy, it’s just a great reminder why coach is drilling you with fundamentals this spring.
Italy leaves the tournament 1-3 having beaten Mexico in the first round while falling to Pool leaders Puerto Rico (3-0) and loosing to Venezuela in two well-fought, one-run games.
The next European game will begin at 4:00 CET (11:00p EDT) on Wednesday, March 15th when The Netherlands take on Cuba in their final scheduled matchup in Round 2.