It's only March, but it feels like playoffs
Excited US players speak about walk-off win, representing their country
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
Team USA, expected to compete for the Classic title, is advancing to the semifinals in Los Angeles, because it was able to rally with three runs in the ninth inning to edge Puerto Rico, 6-5, at Dolphin Stadium.
Shane Victorino started the rally with a single off his Phillies teammate, lefty reliever J.C. Romero.
Victorino and Jimmy Rollins are part of the defending World Series champion Phillies. Rollins came through with a walk to load the bases, setting the stage for David Wright's two-run walk-off single.
"Fortunately for Shane and I, we were in situations like this not too long ago," Rollins said, referring to winning a World Series. "Everybody knows the success Shane had in the postseason. We just had to string them together. We were able to do that, and it worked out."
Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, who has two World Series titles, drove in a run in the ninth by walking with the bases loaded. Youkilis also connected on a home run in the third inning.
When Wright delivered his opposite-field two-run single off Fernando Cabrera, it sent Team USA into a frenzy. Players mobbed and piled on Wright near second base.
"It's right there with it, I think, the excitement and that adrenaline rush," Youkilis said. "When you win the World Series and stuff like that, the dogpile is the same. That was nuts to go out there and do that, and just to be able to celebrate with different guys. I think that's the most special thing is, you're celebrating a game, you're celebrating a nation.
"Being with the United States and all the fans out there were supporting us today, you're celebrating as a whole, and that's what is so special about that."
For Wright, who has had his share of clutch hits, this one -- he said -- ranked near the top.
"I mean, you're talking about representing the United States of America," the Mets All-Star third baseman said. "You have that across the front of your chest. You're representing a nation, and to come, be able to get that hit, that's got to be right up there at the top of the list.
"Every hitter in that dugout wants to be in that situation, bases loaded, one out, game on the line. That's what you dream about growing up as a kid."
Winning in dramatic walk-off style further is making players like Rollins a believer in the Classic. Admittedly, the Phillies All-Star shortstop noted that he had some reservations about the tournament.
"I was skeptical in the fact of the timing of it, and the fact of whether U.S. players would be at the level to compete with some of the other teams who are able to play winter ball," Rollins said.
Part of what makes the Classic enticing is you have players like Youkilis of the Red Sox celebrating with Derek Jeter of the Yankees. You have Rollins rooting on Wright.
Teammates one day, and in another week or so, they will become rivals.
"We'll deal with that when we get there," Rollins said. "Tonight, we're celebrating."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.