Mexico flips the script, dominates Team USA

March 13th, 2023

PHOENIX -- , a native son from Culiacan, redeemed Mexico's Classic hopes and launched it to a spirited 11-5 victory over the United States on Sunday night at Chase Field, swatting two building-shaking home runs.

Statcast was able to measure the exit velocity of the home runs off Meneses’ bat (109.1 and 102.9 mph, respectively), but it failed to capture the decibel levels inside Chase Field when the balls soared over the left-field wall. Even though the U.S. – the reigning Classic champions – served as the home team, the 47,534 in attendance were undoubtedly a pro-Mexico crowd, whipped into a frenzy when Meneses emphatically flipped his bat skyward after his second homer to deliver what would ultimately be a gut punch to the Americans’ hopes of steamrolling through group play.

“I have no words,” Meneses said via an interpreter of his bat flip. “It was a beautiful sensation with a lot of adrenaline. … It’s something I will never forget.”

While Mexico was able to redeem its opening game loss, the United States’ path forward has become muddled after it used eight pitchers. The nature of pitch-count limits (65 in Pool C play) and all of Team USA’s pitchers having a Major League season to prepare for has put manager Mark DeRosa in a spot where he is searching for 27 outs while prioritizing player health.

“Obviously, I want nothing more than for these guys to repeat as champions and hold up a trophy,” DeRosa said. “But I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize these guys’ big league careers. I’m just not.”

The loss far from deals the U.S. a death blow in their quest to repeat, but it does ramp up the urgency for the next two contests. Wins over both Canada and Colombia in the coming days would likely get them through, but as Pool A showcased with a wild five-way tiebreaker scenario, you’d rather not leave things to math when possible.

On Saturday, an adopted son of Mexico – Colombia’s Reynaldo Rodriguez, who played for the club during the Caribbean Series in February – put their odds of advancing out of Pool C in peril. On Sunday, one of manager Benji Gil’s own thrust them back into contention.

Meneses, who made his Major League debut at age 30 this past season with the Nationals, has starred for Tomateros de Culiacan in his hometown during Winter League action dating back to 2013. Even with a circuitous baseball journey through four organizations, Meneses has always returned to Mexico. 

Gil is not only Meneses’ skipper with the Mexican national team, but back in Culiacan as well. The former big leaguer has been a longtime proponent of Meneses’ ability, continually advocating for him to be on the game’s highest stage.

“He has the capacity to be a star in the Major Leagues,” Gil said in Spanish.

On his biggest stage yet, Meneses showcased both his passion and talent level and brought a country to its feet, its voices at full throttle.

“I have never played in an atmosphere like that,” said Mexico starter Patrick Sandoval, who worked three innings of one-run ball. “I’m still fired up from it.”

Being one for the moment is nothing new to Meneses. Once he finally made his Major League debut on Aug. 2 last season after a Minor League odyssey that began in 2011, he promptly homered in his first game. 

From there, Meneses emerged as one of the premier sluggers in the National League over the final two months, slashing .324/.367/.563 with 13 homers and a 165 OPS+ in 56 games. From when he debuted to the end of the year, Meneses finished fifth in the Majors in slugging percentage among all qualified batters.

Coming off that run, Meneses headed to camp with the Nationals knowing he would have a steady big league role come Opening Day for the first time in 2023. Despite that, he made it clear to the team that playing in a World Baseball Classic was a dream of his and he wanted to make it happen for reasons beyond just his own accolades.

“We have the mentality of winning,” Meneses said. “We know there’s teams with more stars but we have more want. We want to show everyone there’s a lot of talent in Mexico.”

Mexico will get the day off following its emotional win, returning to play Tuesday invigorated and infused with momentum in Pool C. They clash with Great Britain at 10 p.m. ET on FS1. Any margin of error that the U.S. previously had is likely all but swept away. On Monday night at 10 p.m. on FS1, they’ll collide with a potent Canada club that tied the Classic all-time mark for most runs (18) in a contest.