Relentless US overpowers Great Britain to begin title defense

March 12th, 2023

PHOENIX -- On paper, every iteration of Team USA’s lineup looks potent. In practice, the Americans bore that hypothesis out Saturday night, cruising to a 6-2 victory over Great Britain to open Pool C play at the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

The top eight hitters in the lineup all reached base at least once, with the team amassing 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position. There was no frame in which they were retired in order.

“[Great Britain] had a base open with Mookie [Betts] up, you can’t walk him to get to [Mike] Trout,” manager Mark DeRosa said. “They had a base open with Mike up, you can’t walk him to get to Goldy. It’s just a relentless lineup.

“I expect the offense to ramp up even more.”

After near misses that landed on the warning track from Betts and Trout early on, brought Chase Field to its collective feet in the fourth.

When Schwarber dropped the bat head on a two-strike changeup, there was a hush. Then, as the ball sailed past the pool beyond the right-center-field fence, there was an eruption of sound. Finally, as he crossed home plate and high-fived Trout and Paul Goldschmidt, a “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chant filled the yard.

“I thought it was probably the most exciting game I’ve pitched in a long time, honestly,” starter said. “I mean, it was so fun. Crowd was rocking early, we had the ‘U-S-A’ chant going.”

Parading through the stands were numerous U.S. fans dressed up as George Washington or Ben Franklin. American flags hung down like old-school bunting and every hard-hit ball put into play by the home squad was cause for jubilation.

While Schwarber delivered the big blow, -- one of two players to return from the 2017 title-winning club -- was the straw that stirred the drink, collecting three hits and two RBIs, including getting the club on the board in the third with the first of his pair of RBI doubles.

Of course, Arenado’s trademark defense made the trip as well, even as the team’s pregame warmups were thrown into disarray by Colombia's extra-inning, 5-4 win over Mexico earlier in the day. The 10-time Gold Glove and six-time Platinum Glove winner reverted to taking infield practice on the outfield grass.

“I try not to break character. I try to stay really focused and locked in while I’m playing and he makes me laugh sometimes [with how good he is],” Wainwright said of Arenado’s multifaceted skill set. “I’ve played with some great fielders, I just don’t know if I’ve ever played with somebody behind me like that.”

Wainwright steadied the ship for the U.S., responding to a first-inning home run from Great Britain’s Trayce Thompson -- the first for the nation in its Classic history -- to twirl four innings of one-run ball. The trio of Jason Adam, Kyle Freeland and David Bednar polished off the final five frames, combining to allow just three hits while striking out six.

Goldschmidt, the other returning member from the 2017 Classic-winning club, has emerged as a vocal leader for 28 others who are stepping onto the stage for the first time. Wainwright relayed that his Cardinals teammate has a newfound sense of comfort entering his age-35 season.

“It’s one of the best baseball experiences of my life what I had in ‘17 because of how positive it was, how much fun I had,” Goldschmidt said. “I was only halfway joking when I said that I begged to get on this team. I mean, I would have done anything.”

Before the U.S. can achieve its goal of playing seven games in 11 days, being the last team standing in Miami begins with handling business in Phoenix. Taking down an upstart Great Britain club in the first meeting between the two teams since the 1938 Baseball World Cup was a step in that direction.

Wainwright recited a recent talk Goldschmidt had with the club: "We could go out and just play and have fun as a team or we can try to win. We’re here for a purpose. We want to stand on the podium with the gold medal.”

Great Britain faces a quick turnaround, returning to the diamond at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday to face Canada on FS1. Next up for the United States is a sold-out clash with Mexico on FS1 on Sunday night at 10 ET. If Day 1 crowds for both clubs are any indication, Chase Field figures to be rocking at nearly unprecedented levels.