Going into the World Baseball Classic this year, Team Canada was deemed a long shot to win the whole tournament, but when it came to just the 16-team field it was thought they could make a push into the second round and play ball from there.
It’s extremely difficult to compete with star-studded lineups like those of the USA, Cuba, Japan, and the Dominican Republic, and the Canadian team and fans know that. But that shouldn’t stop them from playing the best baseball they can play.
After going 3–0 back in the qualifying round late last September, it seemed that Canada could succeed in this year’s WBC, especially with our roster consisting of both fairly established and up-and-coming Major League players, and sprinkled with a few Minor Leaguers who’ve shown enough promise to break into the roster. Though Canada isn’t the deepest star-studded team in the WBC, they do have players who can compete with the best the WBC has to offer. Two of Canada’s most talented players are designated hitter Justin Morneau, the Minnesota Twins star who won the American League MVP back in 2006, and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, who won the National League MVP in 2010. To have two former Major League MVPs alongside emerging young talent like Michael Saunders of the Seattle Mariners and (when healthy) Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays makes for a batting lineup that few other teams in the WBC would complain about.
The pitching, on the other hand, is suspect at best, which means a lot of pressure for the players mentioned to perform night in, night out beside the other five guys suiting up. The country saw a perfect example of this on Friday’s game when the rotation got smacked around for 14 runs, a defeat even two former MVPs couldn’t do much about. The mercy rule went into effect in the Canada versus Italy game because of the 10-run gap that caused the game to be called with Italy cruising to a 14–4 win. This loss was especially tough seeing as how most experts thought Italy should be happy they’re even in the tournament.
But Canada bounced back on Saturday. The batters didn’t wait to see how the pitchers would fare against the Mexico lineup, but went right ahead and scored four runs in the first inning. Former AL MVP Morneau started the scoring with an RBI double to right field, followed by Michael Saunders hitting a two-run shallow single to centre that gave the Canadian roster some significant run support early on.
With the score 9–3 in the top of the ninth and the game basically all but over, Mexico’s pitcher Arnold Leon threw at Canadian batter Rene Tosoni twice. The second one finally hit him after a Canadian player bunted to kick off the ninth inning with a six-run lead. This led to the the benches being cleared, and a scuffle eventually ensued.
Canada walked away with a 10–3 victory and the stereotype still intact that Canadian athletes like to fight. Canada will play Team USA on Sunday; they need a win and some luck to advance to the second round.