Italian baseball has never had a moment like this. Sadly, neither has Canada.
The script for this World Baseball Classic group had Canada polishing off the lightly regarded Italians so they could take a run at Venezuela tonight. But a funny thing happened on the way to Tuesday. Monday, Monday. Can't trust that day.
Canada never got there. It was embarrassed, truly so, 6-2 losers in front of its home fans, beaten by Italy in a game that had been something of a foregone conclusion.
It clearly is the highlight of Italy's threadbare international baseball history and it can write another amazing chapter tonight against the pitching-poor Venezuelans. It's hardly likely, but at least they have given themselves the chance, unlike Canada.
Team Canada, on the other hand, will disperse to the four winds today with a sour taste in its mouth and a sick feeling in its collective stomach. The big showcase, in front of home fans ended with what may be the most humiliating defeat in our own modest international baseball history.
"We came into this tournament believing we could make a step forward," Justin Morneau said. "Instead we took, in my view, a step backward. We felt like we had a team good enough to go to Miami in the second round and instead we lose two straight at home, in our own backyard.
"We expected to win this game. On paper, we're supposed to win it. But you don't play the game on paper. They came out and made some great plays. They hit the ball all over the place."
Chris Denorfia, a 28-year-old Oakland Athletics farmhand, earned himself a place in Italy's honour roll with four hits, including three doubles and two RBI to go with a circus catch that stopped a potential Canadian rally in its tracks in the seventh inning.
Having fallen behind early, Canada had chances for a couple of big innings but the plucky Italians and perhaps some questionable strategy doomed them to the WBC scrapheap in as short a period of time as was possible in this event.
Canada went into the fourth inning trailing by four runs in a do-or-die game. After scoring twice, it had bases loaded with just one out and light-hitting Pete Orr coming to the plate. Instead of pinch-hitting (perhaps Stubby Clapp, or Corey Koskie or maybe Adam Stern) Orr was allowed to hit by manager Ernie Whitt and struck out. Chris Barnwell ended the inning with a fly ball out.
It could also be pointed out that Canada was eliminated without even using arguably its best pitcher, Blue Jays hopeful Scott Richmond, who was being saved to pitch tonight against Venezuela. He'll be fresh for that B game in Clearwater tomorrow.
The Italians quickly trashed starter Vince Perkins' evening and started the Canadians on the road to ruin, scoring single runs in each of the first four innings. Perkins, who has never pitched above double-A level, lasted only through one batter in the third inning and allowed three runs, two of them earned, on three hits and four costly walks.
Meanwhile, journeyman lefty Dan Serafini, a free agent auditioning for pro scouts during this tournament, cruised through three innings for the Italians, allowing only one hit -- on a ball that should have been caught at the wall by right fielder Mario Chiarini.
In the fourth, though, the middle of the Canadian lineup greeted Serafini with consecutive doubles by Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Jason Bay. Reliever Chris Cooper came out of the Italian bullpen to hold the Canadian uprising to two runs, leaving the bases loaded despite two walks.
The Italians added two very important runs in the seventh inning and the Canadian lineup could not put any kind of a dent in the Italian bullpen, Jason Grilli in particular. In the seventh inning, Martin led off by stinging a ball in the gap between third and short, but third baseman Alex Liddi made a big-league play to throw him out. Next man, Votto, hit a laser into right centre but Denorfia made a diving catch to snuff out any chance of a rally.
It was that kind of night: A little bit of heaven for the Azzurri, a whole lot of hell for the Maple Leaf.