U.S. eyeing revenge

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Before the first pitch last night, Team USA manager Davey Johnson was hoping for a reunion.

Three hours and eight minutes later, Venezuela had knocked off the U.S., 5-3, surviving a nervy ninth in front of 12,358 fans at the Rogers Centre.

Now, Team USA, second-place finishers in Group C, faces Puerto Rico on Saturday night to open Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic at Miami.

As first-place finishers, Venezuela plays the Netherlands, where Johnson used to manage, on Saturday afternoon, again in Miami.

Venezuela collected 12 hits against eight USA pitchers, pinning the loss on Jeremy Guthrie. Slap-hitter Gregor Blanco tripled in the fifth, over the head of centre fielder Shane Victorino, off Guthrie to score catcher Henry Blanco, who had doubled. That drive broke a 1-1 tie.

Guthrie allowed four runs in all, the next two when second baseman Marco Scutaro of the Blue Jays, hit a two-run single to left in the sixth.

Francisco Rodriguez came on to close for Venezuela in the ninth, but walked Jimmy Rollins to open the inning. An out later, Derek Jeter reached on an error. Johnson flashed the double-steal sign. But Henry Blanco, who had a memorable night, came up throwing to nail Jeter for the second out. One pitch later, Rodriguez struck out Kevin Youkilis to end it.

The "wrong Zambrano," as the New York Mets scouts describe Victor Zambrano -- once trading Scott Kazmir for him in a deadline deal in 2004 -- started for Venezuela, holding U.S. hitters to one run in 32/3 innings.

Chicago Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano is supposed to be available for the second round, according to Venezuelan players. The Cubs either refused to allow the starter -- or the player refused -- to compete. Neither Zambrano, nor Cubs teammate Ryan Dempster of Canada pitched in the first round.

Meanwhile, a "Ryan Dempster Betrayed Canada" group has sprung up on Facebook.

The lone Cubs starter participating in the first round, ex-Jay Ted Lilly, started for the USA last night. He worked three innings, allowing a solo homer to Henry Blanco on an 0-1 pitch in the third. Blanco had a three-hit night including the double and homer.

Why not pitch Lilly against Canada, with its six left-handed hitters?

"Because he gets right-handers hitters out better than left-handers," said Johnson. "The guy I wanted to start against Canada was Kazmir."

Johnson landed in the Netherlands when he was out of baseball to fill in for manager Robert Eenhoorn, whose son was critically ill in 2000 and was a coach during the Athens Olympics.

"I learned a lot from them how to pitch the Cubans," said Johnson, who watched the Netherlands eliminate the Dominican Republic in extras on Tuesday. "I was very happy. The money earned will help keep programs over there running.

"Now I want to mercy them. Seriously I'm looking forward to seeing them, congratulating them and then playing them."

They may play each other, but it won't be Saturday.

The largest cheers of the night were for Scutaro when he was introduced, and when highlights of the Netherlands win over the Dominicans were shown on the scoreboard.

"We still have to win two games in Miami," Johnson said. "My heart goes out to the guys in the Netherlands and what they have accomplished down there."

BOB.ELLIOTT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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