This is the fourth World Baseball Classic, and it's fair to say the tournament has been more disappointing than anything for Team USA. Their best finish to date has been 4th place in 2009, and they failed to advance out of the second round in 2013.
So it's probably not much of a stretch to say the United States had their biggest win in WBC history on Wednesday night, coming from behind to beat a Venezuela team starting Felix Hernandez and boasting a lineup containing stars like Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Carlos Gonzalez.
Hernandez may not be the King Felix of old, but he kept the American bats quiet for 5 innings, allowing just 3 hits and striking out 3. On the other side, Drew Smyly struck out 8 over 4.2 innings for Team USA, allowing an unearned run on three hits (it was one of those where the run should've been earned anyway, considering Smyly was the one to commit the error).
The US would threaten in the 6th inning, putting two runners on when Ian Kinsler singled and Adam Jones reached on an error by Rougned Odor. However, San Diego Padres prospect Jose Castillo struck out Christian Yelich and Nolan Arenado to end the threat. Not bad for a 21-year-old who's never pitched above A-ball.
Odor made up for his error by hitting a solo home run in the 7th inning, punching it out to right and putting Venezuela up 2-0.
Team USA would respond in the bottom half of the inning, though, with Old Friend Jonathan Lucroy hitting a sacrifice fly to bring in Eric Hosmer, making the score 2-1.
After Pat Neshek put down the Venezuelans in order in the Top of the 8th, magic happened.
Chicago Cubs reliever Hector Rondon came on for Venezuela and promptly gave up a game-tying home run to Jones.
Yelich would follow that up with a single, and after Arenado flew out to Brewers super utility man and Venezuelan hero Hernan Perez, Eric Hosmer caused Petco Park to erupt with a go-ahead two-run blast.
The Americans would threaten for more in the 8th, loading the bases again, but Kinsler struck out to end the inning without adding any more BMIRs.
Luke Gregerson nailed down the save, striking out Hernan for the first out before walking Cabrera and forcing Martinez to ground into the game-ending double play.
Team USA starts the second round with a 1-0 record, which is pretty big considering they play surging Puerto Rico on Friday and the Dominican Republic on Saturday.
Venezuela vs. Dominican Republic, 9 p.m. CDT
It’s back at it for Hernan’s Crew despite the close loss. With both teams shocked to start Round 2 0-1, this is a virtual elimination game, barring any more tiebreaker wonkiness featuring the Venezuelan team.