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Leyland, US can leave angst behind

March 13, 2017

MIAMI -- Smile, Jim Leyland. You've earned it.Thanks to the best starting pitching in the World Baseball Classic -- who needs Cy Young winners, anyway? -- Leyland's United States team survived a harrowing weekend at Marlins Park, and now it's on to Petco Park in San Diego for the second

MIAMI -- Smile, Jim Leyland. You've earned it.
Thanks to the best starting pitching in the World Baseball Classic -- who needs Cy Young winners, anyway? -- Leyland's United States team survived a harrowing weekend at Marlins Park, and now it's on to Petco Park in San Diego for the second round.
Once the plane touches down in California, it really doesn't matter that Team USA lost a 5-0 lead and fell to the powerful Dominican Republic on Saturday, or that it had to play 10 innings on Friday to beat Colombia, a qualifier that shocked everyone by not being a pushover.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
The 8-0 victory over Canada on Sunday night gives the United States a 2-1 record and a spot in Pool F, which will include the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the winner of Monday's Pool D tiebreaker game between Mexico and Italy. (Watch live on MLB Network or MLB.TV)
There were many nervous moments along the way.
Coach Rich Donnelly said the possibility of being forced into a tiebreaking game on Monday -- or even being eliminated through the runs-allowed rule -- had the Team USA officials scratching their heads when Colombia was threatening to upset the Dominican Republic on Sunday.
"We were on our calculators in the coaching room, and in about the eighth inning I got my slide rule out," Donnelly said. "It was tough because between us none of us know how to even turn our cellphones on."
But here's the good news: None of the angst matters anymore. The Dominicans rallied for seven runs in the 11th inning to go 3-0 in the pool and Team USA gets a fresh start in the second round. These will be the games that define its legacy, not anything from this weekend.
"We're excited to move on to the next round," said Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, whose two-run double in the first inning got the ball rolling against Canada starter Ryan Dempster. "We know from this point on the tournament gets tougher and tougher, but we came here, took care of business, did what we had to do, and we're going to be ready for San Diego."

Leyland didn't make an issue about Team USA playing essentially an away game because of all the fans routing for the Dominican Republic and Colombia, but some of his players admitted there was a hostile feel to Marlins Park, especially during the Dominican Republic's 7-5 win on Saturday night.
Tanner Roark was shaky when he entered in relief of Marcus Stroman against the Dominicans, and he said he didn't do a good enough job blocking out the crowd.
"I needed to slow the game down," he said. "I think I let it speed up on me."
Andrew Miller pitched in the World Series for the Indians last October but called the atmosphere at Marlins Park "incredible." He gave up Nelson Cruz's game-winning home run and lamented he wished he had "kept [fans] quiet."
The six games in Pool C drew 163,878 to Marlins Park, highlighted by sellouts when the Dominican Republic played Team USA and Colombia. There will be noisy fans at Petco Park, but traveling there won't be nearly as easy for the Dominican Republic's fan base. It's 3,073 miles from Santo Domingo to San Diego, as opposed to the 823-mile flight to Miami.
Maybe Leyland's team will experience crowds out west that are at least neutral, if not an actual home-field advantage.

Look for Team USA to tweak its pitching staff for the second round. Leyland wouldn't comment about his plans beyond saying Drew Smyly is in line to start the first game, but it won't be a surprise to see some roster changes, possibly even the addition of two pitchers from the Giants.
Closer Mark Melancon and starter Jeff Samardzija were added to the designated pitcher pool last week as replacements for the A's Sonny Gray and the Tigers' Michael Fulmer.
Team USA could also add Rays starter Jake Odorizzi, Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ, Cardinals reliever Brett Cecil or Tigers reliever Justin Wilson from the designated pitcher pool. The priority should be to strengthen the bullpen but Team USA GM Joe Torre must also make sure all of Leyland's starters are cleared to throw 80 pitches, the limit in the second round.
Leyland's pitching plans got scrambled early when Chris Archer wasn't available beyond the fourth inning in Team USA's opener even though he had thrown only 41 pitches. Archer was dominant when he was out there, setting the tone for the starters behind him.
Stroman, Danny Duffy (who shut down Canada) and Archer combined to work 12 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up only five hits and not walking anyone. They had 14 strikeouts, including seven by Duffy.
"We feed off each other," Duffy said. "I feel like I've played with these guys for a lot longer than I have. Archer and Stro, they set the table and I was just trying to follow suit."
Duffy's work against Canada came after the 11-inning Colombia-Dominican game limited the time teams could spend in the clubhouse before taking the field.
How long was Team USA in its clubhouse before it was time to get out for the national anthems?
"You got an egg timer?" Duffy said.

It was that kind of weekend in an event like none other for professional baseball players. Three of the six games in Pool C were classics and Team USA avoided having to play the Dominican Republic in a tiebreaking game only by the grace of Welington Castillo's tag at home plate.
You always need friends, and on Sunday, Team USA had gone ones in Jose Bautista and Castillo, who teamed up to stop the speedy Oscar Mercado from scoring a ninth-inning run that would given Colombia a win over the Dominicans.
"Colombia, I really tip my cap to them," Leyland said. "Ball falls out of the catcher's glove, they're a winner tonight."
But Castillo held on, and so did Team USA.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Tokyo Dome, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.