POOL - D
MONDAY NIGHT BASEBALL
Caesar would have been proud ...
The Venezuelan monster has awoken!
It's only the first round, and we've already been treated with numerous unexpected surprises, and major upsets. But make no mistake - despite any potential elimination from pool play Italy will go down as one of, if not the most resilient team of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Unfortunately for Italy, the Venezuelan monster awoke from its slumber to wreak havoc against them at the plate.
Italy led Venezuela 5-0 through the first four innings of play. One could argue Italy blew that lead.
In fact, I previously accused Italy in my Pool-D preview of lacking the pitching required to contend with Mexico, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.
However, the phantom truth of the matter lay in Venezuela's failure to score over their first 13 innings of WBC play. It was just a matter of time before they started rustling, and sure enough the monster finally awoke midway against Italia. They scored three runs in the fifth, two runs in the sixth, and three more runs in the seventh, giving Venezuela an abrupt 8-5 lead.
Undeterred, Italy struck back with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, then tied the game in the eighth. It can be said they were now poking the monster. And sure enough with one on and one out in the top of the ninth, catcher Salvador Perez went deep for an 8-6 Venezuelan lead.
But the Spartan-like Nine countered yet again. With one run already across the plate, Mets prospect Gavin Cecchini lined a game tying single to center field.
Into extra innings they went. And not surprisingly, Martin Prado's RBI double put Venezuela back on top in the tenth.
Italy was then retired in order to finally end this wild affair.
Despite their spirited performance against both Mexico and Venezuela, Italia unfortunately stood no chance against Puerto Rico. As I said, not nearly enough pitching. Italy was forced to start Luis Lugo, a 23-year old power pitcher who owns a 4.10 ERA through 531.1 innings pitched in rookie and A-level ball. That's fine, just not against Puerto Rico's polished line-up.
Italy twice went deep in posting three early runs. But Puerto Rico - playing as the home team - matched them to forge a 3-3 tie after just two innings. After which, Puerto Rico poured it on, tacking on six more runs in the third through fifth innings. Their bullpen then did what Venezuela's could not: shut the Italians down the rest of the way.
Puerto Rico starter Jose Berrios allowed three runs on just two hits and a walk, with six strikeouts to earn the victory. The bullpen combined on four scoreless innings of one-hit ball, with a walk and three strikeouts.
Puerto Rico defeated Italy 9-3, and in doing so, handed Italy their second loss of pool play.
However, even despite Venezuela's Sunday loss against Mexico, Venezuela still qualifies to play Italy in a tie-breaker game on Monday.
Forza di Baseball: Italia
Quite surprisingly, Italy has not suffered a lack of power. They've hit an astonishing eight home runs in just three games. Problem is, they've been outscored by their opponents 23-29 (largely due to Puerto Rico). That said, the only reason Venezuela will play the tie-breaker, and not Mexico, is because MEX bullpen sucks a mere fraction more than VEN's. Once thought to be respective strengths, they've been terrible. That said, Venezuela's bullpen will be coming off a taxing night against Mexico which may clear the way for Italy generating scoring chances.
Otherwise, in order for Italy to defeat Venezuela and advance into Round Two, they must pitch their finest game to date.
- Italy will be without the services of Brandon Nimmo - who has played very well - due to a strained hamstring.