Canada's pivotal win marred by late fracas
PHOENIX -- The World Baseball Classic is a showcase of Major League talent, national pride, high intensity from fans all over the globe and emotion on the field.
The latter two parts of that equation took over the mood late in Canada's 10-3 victory over Mexico on Saturday afternoon, when a benches-clearing incident that resulted in seven ejections and an on-field interference caused by fans temporarily stained what has been a fun and wildly unpredictable tournament.
The seven ejected -- Team Mexico's Arnold Leon, Oliver Perez, Eduardo Arredondo, Andrew Albers and Alfredo Aceves and Canada's Pete Orr, Rene Tosoni and Jay Johnson -- will not face discipline beyond the ejections, according to a statement released by the World Baseball Classic, Inc., late Saturday night.
"We are extremely disappointed in the bench-clearing incident that marred the conclusion of today's game between Canada and Mexico," said the WBCI in a statement. "The episode runs counter to the spirit of sportsmanship and respectful competition for which the World Baseball Classic has stood throughout its history.
"After communicating with both the Mexican and Canadian baseball federations this evening, we are aware of the perspectives held by both sides in a competitive environment. Nevertheless, we relayed to both teams that such an altercation is inappropriate under any circumstances and has no place in baseball."
Canada (1-1) will face the United States (1-1) at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday to determine who will join Italy (2-1) in the second round of the World Baseball Classic in Miami. Mexico (1-2) was eliminated when the U.S. defeated Italy in a nightcap. Italy, easily the biggest underdog heading into Pool D play, secured a trip to Miami with Canada's victory.
"We are all a bit upset, of course," Mexico manager Rick Renteria said. "Obviously, we would have wanted to finish today on top."
Saturday's early game was especially surprising, considering Canada had been mercy-ruled by Team Italy in the early game on Friday by a score of 14-4, and Mexico had rebounded from its stunning Thursday loss to Italy by defeating the United States, 5-2, in a raucous evening affair.
Canada looked like it was going to be eliminated in the first round for the third consecutive Classic. Mexico looked poised to move on to the second round in Miami.
And then Canada came up to the plate in the first inning and changed everyone's outlook on the situation.
Tyler Green and Joey Votto hit one-out singles against Mexico (and Milwaukee Brewers) starter Marco Estrada, Twins slugger Justin Morneau hit an RBI double into the gap in right-center field, Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders singled in two more runs, catcher Chris Robinson singled in another and Canada never looked back.
The Canadian starter, Chris Leroux of the Pittsburgh Pirates, did his job, limiting Mexico to one unearned run in three innings and striking out four. And while Mexico clawed to within 5-3 with a two-run fourth inning punctuated by Gil Velazquez's RBI double that got the pro-Mexico portion of the crowd of 19,581 back into it, Canada answered and kept answering.
Orr's RBI single in the sixth and two more runs in the seventh, including another driven in on a Morneau double, made it 7-3. Morneau's third RBI of the game, on a single that made him 4-for-5 for the afternoon, made it 8-3 in the eighth inning. Saunders added an RBI single that made him 4-for-4 with three RBIs, and Canada scored again in the ninth.
"Well, No. 1, Mexico did us a favor last night by knocking off USA, which gave us a chance," Canada manager Ernie Whitt said. "And basically, we said at the start of the game we had a little meeting and just told them that we own our own destiny and we know what we have to do. We knew that we had to beat Mexico today, and we have to beat USA tomorrow. And we have accomplished one step of that right now and we have got one more step to go. It's going to be a tough task, but we know what we have to do and we'll be ready."
Unfortunately, the ninth inning of this game will be remembered for the wrong reasons.
With Canada leading by six runs, Robinson bunted for a single to lead off the inning with the tournament's run-differential tiebreaking rule in mind. After third baseman Luis Cruz fielded the bunt, according to TV replays, he appeared to tell Team Mexico reliever Leon to "Get him," meaning to hit the next batter. Leon hit Canadian outfielder Tosoni with a pitch in retaliation for what he considered poor sportsmanship on Robinson's part.
Tosoni began walking toward the mound, both benches emptied and a lengthy scrum ensued and intensified, with punches thrown and seven players ejected.
Just when it seemed like everything had calmed down, a Canadian player egged on the pro-Mexico crowd on his way back to the dugout by raising his arms as if to welcome their derision. Soon after, a bottle flew out of the stands and hit Canadian coach Denis Boucher in the face. Canada shortstop Cale Iorg threw the bottle back into the stands. The game resumed several minutes later, although more fan activity continued, with a ball being thrown back from the crowd onto the playing surface in the direction of first-base coach Larry Walker.
"Honestly, I don't believe that this is something that he was trying to do or that they were trying to hurt anybody," Renteria said of Leon. "It happened. He felt that it was the right thing to do because of the bunt.
"But as I say, we all ... everybody knows of the rules, and we did talk about ... we talked with our players and they knew that they had to try to score as many runs as possible. But at that one moment, he just lost it a little bit."