US tops Puerto Rico in Gio's dominant homecoming
Wright powers offense with five RBIs as lefty allows three hits in five shutout innings
MIAMI -- Gio Gonzalez came home and pitched precisely as advertised for Team USA on Tuesday night in the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
The Nationals left-hander tossed five innings of shutout, three-hit ball and David Wright drove in five runs as the Americans defeated Puerto Rico, 7-1, at Marlins Park. The new home of the Marlins is about 10 miles southeast of Hialeah, Fla., where Gonzalez was raised, and a crowd of 32,872 was highly partisan, chanting "USA, USA" throughout the night.
The Mets third baseman had an RBI grounder, a run-scoring single and put an exclamation point on the win with an eighth-inning, bases-clearing double, giving him 10 RBIs in the four U.S. games, including a game-winning grand slam on Saturday night against Italy. Heading into Tuesday night's game, Gonzalez called the opportunity, "a kid's dream." He wasn't disappointed.
"It's still a dream, just to play for these guys and to represent Team USA and be here in Miami, and like I said, I'm a small-town kid from Hialeah, Fla., it's truly a blessing," Gonzalez said after striking out five, walking none and getting credit for the win. "You couldn't have scripted this any better -- to pitch the first game and help these guys out as much as possible and try to be a part of it. This was a blessing to be alongside some of the greatest. And to say that I pitched in front of my home crowd and to win, it is truly a dream."
The win for the Americans in this double-elimination bracket sets up a Classic match against the undefeated Dominican Republic here on Thursday night at 7 ET, a game that can be seen on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes. The winner of that one earns a spot in the semifinals at San Francisco's AT&T Park on Sunday or Monday.
The Japanese play the second seed from Pool 2 on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT and the Kingdom of the Netherlands faces the top seed on Monday at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. The final game is next Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. Japan won the first two Classics in 2006 and '09.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico plays an elimination game here against Italy on Wednesday night at 7 ET. The Italians lost to the D.R., 5-4, on Tuesday after squandering a 4-0 lead. The winner of that one remains alive and the loser is out of the tournament.
For the Americans, the worst thing that could happen should they lose to the D.R. is an elimination match against either Italy or Puerto Rico on Friday night at 7 p.m. ET. And they've already defeated both of those teams in the tournament by a combined score of 13-3.
All of the games for the remainder of the tournament are slated to be broadcasted on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
"Do I feel we're in a good position?" Team USA manager Joe Torre said in response to that question. "I mean, we want to win every game we play. That's the only way we look at it. We can't start trying to figure things. No, we need to go out and play hard every game because you don't know what's going to happen. You can say we beat a team by so many runs, but at any given time any one of these clubs can beat you, so you just have to be ready to go."
As far as Gonzalez is concerned, he remained with the Nationals last weekend as the U.S. struggled to make it out of the first round in Phoenix. This was his fourth start of the spring and he looked exceedingly sharp, tossing 69 pitches, 11 under the second-round limit of 80 for a starter.
He's on track to pitch five or six days from now in a semifinal game at San Francisco and plans to remain with the team even though he will be a spectator as the bracket plays out. Gio was no spectator on Tuesday as he kept the P.R. off-balance, allowing only three baserunners and never any more than one in a single inning.
"I think he established his fastball right off the bat," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "The first inning, he already established his fastball. I think he's been doing that for many years, and then his secondary pitch after the second time around, his secondary pitch was working. But everything starts from the fastball, and I think that was the key for him."
Wright, who has 15 RBIs in his pair of Classic appearances in 2009 and this year, parlayed a great day in the tournament for a pair of New York star players. Earlier in the day, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano spurred the Dominican on to its big win by going 3-for-4 with a homer and scoring the game-winning run. In the tournament, Cano is 12-for-19 (.632) with two homers, four doubles, six RBIs, five runs scored and 22 total bases.
Wright is 7-for-16 (.438) with a homer, two doubles, 10 RBIs, four runs scored and 12 total bases, earning him the new nickname, "Captain America." Wright has been downplaying his personal accomplishments throughout the tournament and that didn't change after the game.
"Well, I mean, we're winning and that's the important thing," Wright said. "Obviously it's nice to get hits, it's nice to drive runs in, but the important thing is obviously hearing those USA chants and getting a chance to win games and enjoy those high fives afterwards. You know, the individual stuff is nice, but ultimately it's about winning that first WBC championship for the United States."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.