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Saturday, March 9, 2013
Team USA down but not out

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- OK. Let me try to sort this out.

If Canada beats Mexico this afternoon and the United States beats Italy tonight, then Italy and the winner of Sunday's U.S.-Canada game both advance to the second round of the World Baseball Classic in Miami. But if Mexico beats Canada, then the U.S. not only must beat Italy and Canada, it must do so by a certain amount of runs. Or the U.S. could lose to Italy as long as Mexico loses to Canada and Canada loses to the U.S. by enough runs and ... wait, my head hurts.

Let's just play this one game at a time. So here's the situation on Saturday for Team USA: America, the birthplace of baseball, is in an almost must-win situation against Italy and a pitcher named Luca Panerati. Yes, Italy!

This is all because Mexico upset the United States 5-2 Friday night after Italy not only upset Canada, the Italians mercy-ruled the Canadians by 10 runs. So that leaves Italy 2-0, Mexico 1-1 and the U.S. and Canada each 0-1 in Pool D of the WBC.

Don't you just love the WBC?

Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian Gonzalez celebrates Mexico's win, but his team can't afford another loss either.

U.S starter R.A. Dickey certainly did heading into Friday's game. He was on the U.S. Olympic team that took home the bronze medal in 1996, and he talked this week about this tournament providing an opportunity at redemption for not winning gold in Atlanta. He said that whatever the prize is for winning the WBC, he would consider it a gold medal.

Unfortunately, Dickey helped bury the team with a poor outing against Mexico, allowing four runs and six hits in four innings. His knuckleball was inconsistent and Mexico hammered him from the start, scoring two runs in the first and two more in the third on Adrian Gonzalez's massive home run to center field.

"It's a crockpot. You're in a pressure cooker," Dickey said of the WBC situation. "You have to perform well. And we didn't perform well tonight. Speaking of my own performance in particular. If I keep that two runs, it's a tie ballgame right now and it's a whole different feeling. But I put us behind the eight ball early and I think I took some of the energy out of the crowd by letting them put up a four-spot the first three innings.

"It's sad. You want to do so well. You're given another opportunity and you feel like you've blown the opportunity. But that's only this moment. Tomorrow we'll wake up and it will be time to attack another team and hopefully score a bunch of runs so that we don't have to worry about run differential."

Ah yes, the run differential. If there is a three-way tie -- and it's possible three teams could be tied at either 2-1 or at 1-2 -- then the tie is broken by runs-per-inning differential, which means the Americans might not only need to win, they could need to win by at least two runs.

On the other hand, if the U.S. and Canada both win Saturday, then run differential wouldn't matter. Mexico would be out, while both Italy and the winner of Sunday's U.S.-Canada game would advance to the next round regardless of runs. So the U.S. should be rooting for Canada against Mexico.

Not that shortstop Jimmy Rollins is looking at it that way. "I'm rooting for the United States," Rollins said emphatically. "Let's go out and score 15 before five innings, and then we'll get back on that run differential side."

Well, the U.S. ought to score plenty of runs. Panerati, a lefty from Bologna, Italy, has never pitched higher than the Midwest League in the Reds' organization and will now have to face the likes of Ryan Braun, David Wright, Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones and Joe Mauer. But you never know. The Americans managed only two runs against Mexico starter Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers and the five relievers between him and closer Sergio Romo of the Giants.

"This is incredible. This is an amazing victory for Mexico," Adrian Gonzalez said. "The only thing is that we don't have a whole lot of time to enjoy. We have to win tomorrow. And if there is no win tomorrow, then we don't go to Miami. And we have to win. We have to win. Even at that, there's nothing guaranteed."

Which is probably the best way to describe the situation. Nothing is guaranteed. So just win and see what happens.