PHOENIX -- Team USA entered Wednesday’s game against Colombia knowing that a win sealed them a date in the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals. In a lineup overflowing with superstars and a handful of likely future Hall of Famers, it was again the captain, Mike Trout, who led the way, going 3-for-4 with all three RBIs as the U.S. punched its ticket to Miami in its quest to be the last team standing by virtue of a 3-2 victory.
“I just think he’s one of the best players of all time at the end of the day,” manager Mark DeRosa said of Trout. “He was coming off 16, 17 at-bats in Spring Training and no one is in midseason form like that, but I think some of these games that we played – Mexico woke us up. He had some great ABs in the Canada game. That bullet he hit to right to start it off was pretty special. He looks really good at the dish. He’s just super confident in what he’s able to do.”
That aforementioned bullet to right came in the first inning at Chase Field, a 112.5 mph laser that got to the right-center-field fence in no time. Trout ripped around to third, setting the tone for his next two times to the dish: an RBI single in the third that opened the scoring and a two-run knock in the fifth that put the U.S. ahead.
Trout has formed a dynamic tandem at the top of the USA order alongside Mookie Betts, who delivered a multihit performance in his own right. All four balls that Betts put in play were classified as “hard hit” (north of 95+ mph), and he was twice the beneficiary of a Trout run-scoring knock.
“All I gotta do is get on base and I’ve got him behind me,” Betts said. “I know I’m going to get pitches to hit, they don’t want to walk me to get to him with somebody on base. It’s just fun when you take off the uniform and you play for your boy.”
Next up for the United States is a clash with Venezuela (Sat., 7 p.m. ET, FOX), which swept its way through Pool D. From this point forward, all 2023 World Baseball Classic games will be single elimination contests, meaning the U.S. will need to reel off three straight wins in order to be crowned back-to-back champions.
In 2013, David Wright earned the moniker “Captain America” for serving as the engine of the U.S. offense during the World Baseball Classic. In 2023, the captain is another fan favorite in Trout, one who convinced a historic group of talent to converge with the hopes of becoming back-to-back champions on the global stage.
Through four games, the numbers between the two have drawn parallels:
Wright: 7-for-16, 1 HR, 10 RBIs, .438/.526/.750
Trout: 5-for-12, 1 HR, 6 RBIs, .417/.588/.833
“I knew signing up the atmosphere was going to be electric,” Trout said. “I talked to [Adam] Wainwright about this during the game [against] Canada. This is the funnest experience I’ve had on a baseball field – to represent your country. It’s been a blast.
“Hearing ‘U-S-A’ chanted in the ninth inning, you look in the stands and people are waving the American flag – it means a lot to all of us. To play for our country, it’s been really fun.”
For all of the focus on the All-Stars, Silver Sluggers and MVPs that dot the starting nine, the fact that Team USA has assembled a bullpen unit full of fireballers and shut-down arms has gone largely under the radar. But in a one-run affair, the group of Kendall Graveman, Daniel Bard, David Bednar, Jason Adam, Devin Williams and Ryan Pressley held the line, holding the Colombian lineup to just two singles with nine strikeouts over six dominant frames.
“It comes down to the players. You can sit up all night and script it, plan it – they got to execute,” DeRosa said. “Could they have done [any] better? Devin Williams threw one [prior] pitch the entire pool play and looked midseason form out there. David Bednar’s heater is exploding. Jason Adam’s got electric weapons to go to. It was nice to see Bard bounce back. And Pressly’s been in the biggest moments in the big leagues the last seems like five, six years. Just awesome domination and execution by those guys.”
For Colombia (1-3), the defeat is a disappointing end to a 2023 Classic that began with significant promise. Despite owning the lone victory over the winners of Pool C (Mexico, 3-1), Colombia will have to enter the qualifying stage in hopes of returning to the WBC in 2026. Great Britain (1-3), whose Cinderella story led to it earning a spot in Arizona, has qualified for the next iteration of the World Baseball Classic by virtue of its win over Colombia on Monday.
The sheer level of experienced Major League talent that the U.S. roster boasts was difficult for all four opposing managers to combat through pool play. Colombia skipper Jolbert Cabrera was proud of his team’s effort and is looking forward to continuing to participate in the growth of baseball in his country, but he aptly described the conundrum of competing against a squad that boasts as much skill as the Americans do.
“Today's game, you are fighting against a monster with 15 heads,” Cabrera said via an interpreter. “You cut one down, two more come out and replace the old one.”