PHOENIX — Team USA has a lineup full of MVPs and All-Stars, and sent out the reigning NL Cy Young winner for its opening game of the World Baseball Classic.
All those hitters couldn’t do much of anything against Mexico’s string of pitchers and the Cy Young winner fell flat.
Now the Americans have to win or they could be headed home after the opening round for the first time at the WBC.
Adrian Gonzalaz hit a two-run homer off U.S. starter R.A. Dickey, seven pitchers kept the Americans’ bats in check and Mexico rebounded from a disappointing opening loss with a 5-2 win over Team USA in Pool D late Friday night.
“They outplayed us in every area of the game and that is what you get,” U.S. third baseman David Wright said. “A pretty convincing win for them.”
Mexico had beaten the Americans before in the WBC, in 2006. But in that win, the Mexicans had already been eliminated and were able to play loose.
Coming off a last-inning loss to Italy in its opener this year, Mexico needed to beat the United States or its tournament was essentially over.
The Mexicans pulled it off with a nearly flawless game, getting good pitching, solid defense and some timely hits in front of a boisterous, pro-Mexican crowd of 44,256 at Chase Field.
Gonzalez hit a two-run homer off Dickey in the third inning and finished with three RBI. Luis Cruz had two RBI and Eduardo Arredondo had three hits and scored three runs.
Yovani Gallardo pitched 3 1/3 effective innings to start Mexico’s domination on the mound and Sergi Romo bounced back from shaky outing against Italy with an overpowering ninth inning.
Mexico will send out right-hander Marco Estrada against Canada on Saturday with a chance to move on to the second round of the WBC for the third straight tournament, depending on how the rest of the pool plays out.
“The last one, we knew we were out and that put us in a position where we had nothing to lose,” Gonzalez said. “This one, we’re still in it and we had to win. We went out and played as close to a perfect game as you can play in baseball.”
Team USA (0-1) never recovered after Dickey’s early struggles, its stacked lineup unable to get much of anything going against Mexico’s string of pitchers.
The Americans didn’t have an extra-base hit until the seventh inning and had six singles among their eight hits. They also stranded eight runners, forcing them into a must-win situation against surprising Italy on Saturday.
Ryan Vogelsong will pitch against the Italians, who opened the WBC with two wins.
“You want to win the game and certainly we were ready to go out there today,” U.S. Manager Joe Torre said. “But they did a better job at what they were doing than what we were doing.”
The U.S. team has been so-so thus far in the WBC, failing to get past the round-robin stage in 2006 and losing in the semifinals in 2009, helping to clear the way for Japan to win the first two titles.
Team USA is stocked for a good run in this year’s tournament, trotting out a lineup that includes three former league MVPs – Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer and Jimmy Rollins – along with nine other players who have been major league All-Stars.
Hoping to get the tournament off to a good start, Torre handed the ball to Dickey, the first knuckleballer to win a Cy Young Award.
While many of the big-name pitchers back out of playing in the WBC, Dickey was an enthusiastic participant, in part because he was on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that earned a disappointing bronze.
His opening game in the WBC didn’t go too well.
Mexico jumped on the his knuckleball right off, starting with Arredondo’s reach-and-slap single to open the game. He came around to score on Cruz’s sacrifice fly after a double by Ramiro Pena. Gonzalez made it 2-0 with a groundout to second, revving up the crowd.
Gonzalez brought fans to their feet in the third inning with a two-run homer to the deepest part of the park, a towering shot above the pool deck in right-center that was upheld by a video review.
Dickey was three pitches short of the WBC minimum 65 after four innings and didn’t come back out. He allowed four runs and six hits.
“I wasn’t as sharp,” Dickey said. “I felt pretty good in the ‘pen and threw some really good ones when I was out there, but consistently it was not as good as I hope for.”
Mexico was in need of a lift after a disappointing opening game against Italy.
Leading 5-4 after eight innings, the Mexicans lost 6-5 after Romo, closer for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, gave up a two-run double to Anthony Rizzo. Mexico had the bases loaded in the bottom half against Jason Grilli, but Jorge Cantu grounded out to end the game.
For their critical second game, Mexico turned to Gallardo, the Milwaukee Brewers’ ace who won 16 games last season.
Unlike Dickey, he was sharp early, facing the minimum through three innings after Mauer singled in the second inning and was quickly erased on a double play.
Gallardo was done after a leadoff single by Rollins in the fourth inning and a one-out walk to Braun. Wright followed with a run-scoring single to right off Luis Mendoza to cut Mexico’s lead to 4-1, but Eric Hosmer grounded out on a comebacker with runners at the corners to end the inning.
Gallardo allowed a run on two hits and struck out four.
Cruz put Mexico up 5-1 with a sacrifice fly off Glen Perkins in the fifth after Arredondo’s third hit led off the inning.
Team USA had two on in the fifth and sixth innings and failed to get a run in, and Rollins was stranded at second in the seventh after a two-out double, their first extra-base hit of the night.
The U.S. finally came through in the eighth, when Hosmer blooped a single to center off Fernando Salas to score Braun and cut Mexico’s lead to 5-2.
Romo bounced back from his rough outing against Italy, closing out Mexico’s statement win with a perfect ninth that set off a huge roar inside Chase Field and sent the Mexican players charging off the bench.
“Those guys have the confidence in me and it hasn’t ever wavered,” a subdued Romo said. “I showed up from the get-go and it’s some respect that I’d never really had before. There’s no chance I was going to let anybody down.”