March 11, 2009
Italy dealt dose of realityClock strikes midnight on Cinderella team
By KEN FIDLIN, SUN MEDIA
Italian baseball got its 15 minutes of fame but last night it was back to business as usual. As a result, Venezuela is headed to Miami and a berth in Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic.
Having humbled Team Canada Monday night with a 6-2 upset, Italy's Cinderella story ended abruptly in a shower of Venezuelan power that flattened Italy 10-1.
Venezuela broke open a scoreless game with four runs in the fourth and five more in the fifth and it now will face the United States tonight in what is billed as the Group C championship but what is, in reality, a meaningless exercise since both teams will move on.
In theory, the winner will get a lesser opponent in the next round but there is really no "gimme" waiting in Miami.
"Obviously we're both going to Miami, but this game (tonight) is important for us to show the United States that this team is here to win," said Venezuela manager Luis Sojo, who was relieved that his potent offence lived up to expectations last night.
"We knew that sooner or later we were going to break out but I was getting worried."
Sojo may say tonight's game is important but his choice of starting pitchers says he truly believes otherwise. Venezuela will send Victor Zambrano to the mound against the Americans' Ted Lilly. Enough said.
Through the first three innings last night, the Venezuelans got hardly a sniff off Italy starter Adam Ottavino, a St. Louis Cardinals farmhand who was impressive, throwing a mid-90's fastball and a nasty breaking pitch. Ottavino gave up a first-inning leadoff double to Endy Chavez and it was the only hit he allowed.
However, when he handed the ball to Tiago DaSilva to start the fourth, things changed in a hurry. Nine of the next 15 Venezuelan hitters scored.
In the fourth, Carlos Guillen delivered an RBI double and two more runs scored on an error by shortstop Nick Punto in a bat-around inning.
In the fifth, the Venezuelans mashed four home runs -- Bobby Abreu, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Lopez and a big-deck shot by Ramon Hernandez -- to put the game out of reach with a nine-run lead.
Still, this was a tournament that the Italians leave with a great deal of pride.
"I think the first victory (for the players) is the victory over themselves," Italian manager Marco Mazzieri said. "By playing the way we played is a victory for us. I couldn't ask for more. The effort was there, the energy was there, good baseball was there."
Enrique Gonzalez, in his ninth year of pro ball at the age of 26, did not allow a run in his first start of the tournament for Venezuela. He's so famous that Sojo didn't even know his first name. He worked four innings, allowing only two hits, handing off to Ramon Ramirez, who was just about as effective.
The WBC experience here in its first trip to Toronto has turned out to be a strange thing. It opened with a spectacular game between the United States and Canada in which a near-sellout crowd of over 42,000 was fully engaged from the first pitch to the last as the Americans prevailed in a nailbiter.
The rest of the tournament has paled in comparison. Lousy pitching, lopsided scores and an inability for fans to know in advance who would be playing on any given night were problems. Canada's untimely dismissal on Monday totally killed any local interest at that point. The opening game aside, the tournament has been poorly attended and, quite frankly, not all that entertaining.