PHOENIX — It was a win and a move Wednesday night for Team USA against Colombia in the 2023 World Baseball Classic and the United States answered the call. Barely. USA won 3-2 thanks in large part to Mike Trout (you may have heard of him). The Americans will then face Venezuela in the quarter-finals on Saturday in Miami.
Let’s see how it went at Chase Field in Arizona on Wednesday.
The Mike Trout Game
After his third at bat, I started imagining Mike Trout doing a wrestling style promo where he says something like “just in case you forgot who I am…” The best positional player in the world was the best player in this game.
Trout tripled the center field wall in the first inning, but was blocked at third base. Next at bat, he home picked Mookie Betts with two outs for the first inning of the game. The next time was the start of the fifth with the United States trailing 2-1. The runners were second and third. Yeah, Trout did his thing again.
It’s also worth mentioning that in the bottom of the third, Colombia had already scored two points and Meibrys Vilora sent a rocket to the center right that could have added another point. Instead, Trout raced it for the heat finale.
Trout went 3 for 4 with a triple and the USA RBI three. If there was such a thing, he would have been the unanimous MVP of the game.
We have to point out that Mookie Betts did his job by getting on base twice in front of Trout, scoring two of the three American points. Give Betts credit, but this game was mostly about Trout carrying the American offense.
The United States is still lagging behind
The United States finished pool play 3-1, but fell behind in three of their four matches. The only exception was when the United States scored nine runs against Canada in the first set. Moving on to the quarter-finals and, perhaps, beyond, the United States will face much stiffer competition and it would behoove them to stop playing from behind.
The offense was missing
There was definitely some shouting and foul balls. Betts and Nolan Arenado both hit foul balls from range to the left field line. Arenado’s late double play in the first set hit hard. Both Arenado and Kyle Schwarber flew out to the warning track. Betts and Trea Turner lined up sharply in left field.
All that to say that the offense probably collectively swung the bats better than three runs on seven hits.
Still, it was just three runs on seven hits against a pitching staff with barely any major-caliber talent. The only extra hit was Trout’s triple.
We’ve watched baseball long enough to know that it’s not a game of small samples and we shouldn’t make rash judgments based on those samples. To say that the US attack is bad or even mediocre when it is actually loaded would be madness. Still, this is a tournament of small samples and, to name just one example, Japan were barely challenged. The United States are not exploiting their potential on the offensive side, except for this huge rally against Canada. Maybe that will change in the next round.
Rough start for Kelly, but the bullpen delivered
The great weakness of the American team in the approach of the World Baseball Classic was not really in question. This is the starting throw. Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly, 34, was never an All-Star and got the ball in a game the United States badly needed to win. In three innings of work, he coughed up two runs on four hits and two walks against just one strikeout. It wasn’t a solid performance. Then again, he didn’t get run over either, and the US certainly should have provided more support.
As for the line of relievers that followed Kelly, they were mostly awesome. Kendall Graveman gave up a single but erased it with a pick-off to end his scoreless inning. Daniel Bard worked around a boardwalk. David Bednar and Jason Adam were outstanding. Devin Williams and Ryan Pressly closed the door.
Next meeting for the United States: Venezuela
Venezuela went 4-0 in their pool, beating Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Israel and Nicaragua. Venezuela’s roster includes plenty of household names, such as Jose Altuve, Ronald Acuña, Miguel Cabrera, Salvador Perez, Anthony Santander, Luis Arraez, Andrés Giménez, Eugenio Suárez, Gleyber Torres and, well, you get the picture. They are loaded.
Adam Wainwright, who started the United States opener, thinks he’ll get the ball back on the mound, but nothing has been made official yet.