USA fights its way to WBC semi-finals

MIAMI — The United States was in trouble.

The defending World Baseball Classic champion trailed Venezuela by two runs in the eighth inning of a quarterfinal on Saturday night at LoanDepot Park. Facing a tough side that had overcome a star player’s injury to take the lead, the right to advance to the semi-finals was at stake.

Then shortstop Trea Turner, 29, stepped in at home plate. With the bases loaded, Turner sent a ball into the left field seats, stealing the momentum of the game in what ended up being a 9-7 victory for the United States. After connecting on the grand slam, Turner dropped his bat, pumped his arms as he leapt out of the batter’s box and turned to his teammates to shout.

“Individually, it’s probably the biggest hit I’ve ever had,” said Turner, who won the 2019 World Series with the Washington Nationals. United States manager Mark DeRosa added: “It’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever played in.”

The United States, which won the WBC the last time it was contested in 2017, will now face Cuba on Sunday night in a match loaded with symbolism, history and emotion. Whoever emerges victorious will face the winner of the other semi-final, between Japan and Mexico, on Monday. The WBC final will take place on Tuesday.

In a tournament that provided several exciting moments and close matches, there was also pain. While celebrating a 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, Puerto Rico came close and Mets star Edwin Díaz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. He underwent surgery the following day and is likely out for the 2023 season.

Another top player was injured on Saturday: Venezuelan second baseman and Houston Astros star Jose Altuve left the game in the fifth inning when American relief pitcher Daniel Bard, whose command had gone wild , hit him with a 96 mph fastball. Altuve fell to the ground and left the game holding his right hand. The Astros said Altuve is under review.

“I’m very worried,” said Venezuela coach Omar López, who also coaches Astros. “I’m sad. I’m frustrated.”

From the start on Saturday, USA appeared to be in control, quickly taking the lead with their star-studded roster. But Venezuela struggled in the game and the teams exchanged blows as the innings progressed, with the crowd hanging on every pitch.

“You don’t get to do this often, especially so early in the year, with this energy in the stadium,” Turner said. “It was probably the loudest game I’ve ever played.”

When the United States took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning, Venezuela responded quickly in the second half when first baseman Luis Arráez fired a two-run outburst. In the fifth inning, the United States increased their lead to 5-2 thanks to a solo home run by left fielder Kyle Tucker against Astros teammate Luis Garcia. But Venezuela has once again retaliated.

The United States were undermined by Bard’s wayward command and Venezuela took a 6-5 lead in the bottom half of the frame. As receiver Salvador Pérez tied the game with a brace and Ronald Acuña Jr. gave the go-ahead on a sacrifice fly, Venezuela lost Altuve. And two innings later, Arráez broke his second home run to give his team a 7-5 lead, sending a crowd that felt largely Venezuelan into a frenzy.

But it all set the stage for USA’s dramatic comeback in the eighth inning. After second baseman Tim Anderson walked and pinch hitter Pete Alonso scored a single, catcher JT Realmuto was hit by a pitch to load bases from new Philadelphia Phillies teammate Turner, who was hitting in last in this busy formation. And when Turner saw a change in the middle of Silvino Bracho’s plate, he was able to save the day.

“When Trea cut that ball, honestly, I saw about 35 guys, including the coaches, pass out and lose their minds for a minute,” DeRosa said. “It was just an awesome moment.”

nytimes sport

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