Canada controls own Pool C destiny after topping Colombia

March 15th, 2023

PHOENIX – Cowbells, aerophones and dedicated flag wavers infused life into Chase Field on Tuesday afternoon. But it was the exuberant talent of a youthful Team Canada that spurred a 5-0 victory over Colombia, leaving the club one victory away from advancing out of pool play for the first time in five tries at the Classic.

“Coming into the tournament, we kind of knew we had to win three games to guarantee us going forward,” manager Ernie Whitt said before the game. “It’s right on the table; we do that, we’re going forward.”

Canada began its 2023 World Baseball Classic journey by bludgeoning its way to victory, tying the then-single game record for runs (18). It has now proved that it can win on the back of its pitching as well, as 24-year-old , pitching his first game with “Canada” across his chest, delivered five scoreless frames en route to the club’s first shutout in WBC history.

“They always say, ‘Good pitching stops good hitting,’” Whitt said. “Colombia is a very aggressive team and we were able to spot up our fastballs and breaking balls and keep them where they didn’t get the barrel of the bat on the ball. Kudos to our pitchers, they did their job.”

Youth has been serving the Canadians well throughout their stint in Phoenix. Eight players on the roster rank among MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 prospects for their respective organizations, by far the most of any team in the 2023 Classic. 

Skirrow – who was close to making the Phillies’ Top 30 list – struck out five and allowed just two hits and one walk, dialing up a pair of double plays at pivotal moments.

Bo Naylor (Guardians’ No. 4 prospect, No. 64 overall) opened the scoring with an RBI single in the fourth, before Owen Caissie (Cubs’ No. 13 prospect) slashed an opposite-field run-scoring knock in the eighth. The cherry on top came from No. 14 Blue Jays prospect Otto Lopez, who clobbered a hanging breaking ball for a three-run homer out to left-center field in the ninth to seal the win.

“Yes, we have a young team,” Whitt said. “But they’re getting the opportunity to play. This is a big stage for them.”

Cal Quantrill and Mitch Bratt – Canada’s starting pitchers the first two games – were unable to escape the first inning in their outings. That left Skirrow, an undrafted member of the 2020 class out of Liberty who just reached Triple-A this season, in the spot of needing not only to keep Colombia off the board, but to deliver length as well.

Of the 58 pitches Skirrow threw, 20 were either whiffs or called strikes. His upper-80s mph slider/cutter was particularly difficult to navigate, accounting for three of his five punchouts and ample frustration from Colombia batters who were unable to string multiple hits together, failing to push a runner into scoring position against the Cambridge, Ontario, native.

“It was mostly the heater/slider that was pretty good and being able to mix in the curveball to avoid the ambush heater was kind of the game plan, keep them off-balance,” Skirrow said. “Pitch to my strengths rather than their weaknesses.”

“I feel like when we made that adjustment of crowding the plate on him a little bit, he was throwing a lot of fastballs, cutters, sliders – everything was breaking away,” Colombia manager Jolbert Cabrera said. “We didn’t make the necessary adjustments.”

Timely defense was in the cards for the Canadians as well. They spun three double plays, as well as recording one of the strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out variety.

Lopez, who was a part of two of those double plays, called his ninth-inning homer the top offensive highlight of his career thus far. Having grown up in Montreal, the 24-year-old said in Spanish how proud he is to play for Canada, the country in which he was raised after being born in the Dominican Republic.

Canada was able to piece together enough offense despite leaving 12 runners on base and losing All-Star Freddie Freeman early to a hamstring injury. Whitt didn’t anticipate having Freeman available for the team’s Pool C finale, leaving the team without its most established offensive weapon and further tunneling the load on players entering the big stage for the first time.

“We want them to play their game,” Whitt said of the group. “We’re not asking them to do more than they’re capable of doing – just go out and play the game.

“We go out and we play the game the right way. Believe me, we have just as much passion as any other country. The biggest thing for us is that we may not be the favorites, but we will play like we are the favorites.”

Despite the defeat, Colombia still has a path to the quarterfinals. They will wrap up Pool C play against Team USA (2-1) on Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FS1, needing a victory and potentially some assistance from elsewhere in the group. Canada meets Mexico at 3 p.m. on Wednesday on FS2, one victory away from earning a ticket to Miami.