March 8, 2007
'Canada's greatest win'If you forget where you were a year ago today, let us remind you. Canada upset the U.S. in perhaps this nation's biggest baseball win
By BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ernie Whitt was asked if he remembers what he was doing a year ago on March 8.
"Probably, we were in Phoenix," Whitt said. "Was that the day we beat Team USA?"
Whitt was told that today is the anniversary of Team Canada's 8-6 upset victory against the U.S. before 16,993 fans at Chase Field in the World Baseball Classic. Whitt was managing the Canadian side.
The Blue Jays bench coach asked if March 8 had been declared a national holiday.
Not yet. But we're working on commemorating what Matt Stairs called "Canada's greatest win on a ball field."
Canada faced Florida Marlins lefty Dontrelle Willis with a starting lineup of eight left-handed hitters and Pittsburgh Pirates all-star Jason Bay.
"Arriving at the park we were fired up, but nervous, facing Willis with all those lefties," Stairs said.
Canada went 6-for-14 against Willis in 2T innings for a 5-0 lead.
"Adam Stern carried us," Stairs said.
Stern drove in four of the first five runs with a triple, a two-run single and an inside-the-park homer. If you were watching Sportsnet, you missed the early scoring. The irreverent network stayed with the Cuba-Panama game when it went into extra innings.
Stairs was due up when lefty Al Leiter was hooked in favour of righty Gary Majewski. Stairs lined a two-run single to make it 7-0.
Jason Varitek hit a grand slam against Eric Cyr in the fifth to cut the lead to 8-6.
With two men on in the eighth, Canada was holding a two-run lead the way Bruce Willis hangs onto the edge of a building in an action thriller. Scott Mathieson of the Philadelphia Phillies faced teammate Chase Utley.
Utley hit a drive to deep right centre, dropping the bat as like it was a hot poker, thinking it was gone.
Said Stairs: "Utley pimped it big time."
Utley had faced Mathieson once before that spring in Clearwater.
"I thought off the bat I had it," Utley said yesterday at Bright House Field.
Instead of congrats on three-run, game winner, he received teasing text messages on his cellphone for his styling from players including teammate Rheal Cormier.
Mathieson explained at times as soon as a pitcher releases the ball he knows.
"You know something bad will happen and this was one of them," he said. "My heart stopped. I dropped my head. Then, Stern caught the ball at the wall. It went very fast from an extreme low to an extreme high."
Stairs was watching nervously as Stern tracked the ball.
"I thought 'Oh my God' and then Stern caught it and I thought 'Oh my God, we're going to win this,' " Stairs said.
Steve Green worked a scoreless ninth to put Canada at 2-0.
"We shot our bolt against the U.S. and didn't have much left against Mexico," Stairs said.
"What hurt was Varitek's homer -- that cost us on the run differential."
Canada, the only team of the 16 to lose only once and not advance to the second round, was eliminated.
But March 8, like Sept. 28 when Paul Henderson scored against the Russians or Canada Day, July 1, should be remembered.
Bill Saunders coached Stairs and drove him from Fredericton to Montreal for the Expos tryout camp where Stairs signed in 1989. He was watching a year ago today with his wife Mary.
"We were at Ricky T's, a bar in St. Petersburg," Saunders said.
"There were the two of us and one other young fellow cheering for Canada."
Said his wife: "We cheered but we didn't want to cheer too loudly.' "
"That was a sad day for us," said Vernon Wells, who was with Team USA.
"If Chase hits that three innings earlier, the ball is out. The air got heavier.
"I don't think we took Canada for granted. Is March 8th now a national holiday in Canada?"
Well, now that you mention it, I may take the day off. Either that or go to a ball game.