MIAMI – Venezuelan right-hander Tria Turner has faced Silvino Bracho exactly once in his career.
“Go and look at the highlights at bat,” he told me before I interviewed him on FS1.
“bad?” I asked.
Turner replied, “Too bad.”
The attack took place on September 26, 2016, in the ninth inning of a game in which Turner’s former team, the Nationals, trailed the Diamondbacks, 14-4. Bracho delivered a slider of 82 mph. Turner checked his swing. The ground ball he got at first was so weak, he never made a run.
Too bad — and Turner’s full frame of reference when Bracho entered the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic Saturday night with the bases loaded, none in the top of the eighth and Venezuela leading the USA 7-5.
Turner, ninth on Team USA with $300 million, has a fastball for one hit. He messes up another fastball for the second strike. At that point, he was 3-for-13 in the WBC, even though one of his hits was a homer. He was still looking up his swing, just as he would in regular spring training. Down 0-2, he knew he had Mookie Betts and Mike Trout behind him.
Bracho has only played four major league games in the past four seasons. Venezuela coach Omar Lopez needed him out after lefty Jose Quijada loaded the bases by walking Tim Anderson, allowing a single by batter Pete Alonso and striking out JT Realmuto. Closer Jose Alvarado was never available to more than four players, López said.
Bracho threw a changeup to Turner, right over turning the plate. This time, Turner didn’t check his swing. Instead, he turned around on the pitch furiously, following up with an impressive one-handed finish. On a night full of uncertainties, one night in which reliever Daniel Bard suffered a terrifying loss of control, helping turn a 5-2 lead into a 6-5 deficit, Turner hit the ultimate no doubt, an indelible grand slam.
“I feel like I passed out,” Turner said.
He was not alone.
“I’ve seen about 35 players, including coaches, kind of pass out,” said Team USA manager Mark DeRosa.
Memories may be blurry for Turner, DeRosa and Co. , but those who were conscious will never forget what they saw. Turner skips to first base, gasps excitedly, and points toward the dugout. Then, in the third, almost every USA team is waiting at home to celebrate with it, as do the Venezuelan and many other foreign teams.
The major league clubs are more conservative, only emptying the dugouts for lockout. But DeRosa, who played in Venezuela with Leon del Caracas during the 2000-2001 season, knew Saturday night had to be different. WBC was down to single elimination. And the sellout crowd in Miami was almost certainly pro-Venezuelan.
DeRosa told his players before the game to bring their passion, and match the energy of the Venezuelan team, to “let it go.” He said that if an American player hits a home run, meet him at home plate. Nolan Arenado also spoke, conveying a similar message. Arenado said that Team USA would effectively be a road team. She will need to create her own energy.
Adam Jones, the 2017 WBC US champion, entered the room after Arenado finished. He told the players, pump yourselves up. Be louder to your teammates than the crowd will be. Oh, and pimp one if you feel like it, because that’s what your opponent will do.
“We were more dead in pool games,” said catcher Realmuto. “But here, it was like, they’re going to have a lot of fans behind them, and we have to pull together in our dugout and create as much energy as possible. Having that message before the game, knowing what to expect, was important.”
Jones wanted the U.S. players to be “dynamic,” and that’s exactly what they were in the first half, as they knocked out Venezuelan superstar Martín Perez on five straight singles to open the game, taking a 3-0 lead. Venezuelan Luis Aries responded in the bottom half with the first of his two blockers, a two-round shot that provided the first sign that the night might be unusual, even by WBC standards.
Arraez, last season’s AL batting champion, has never pitched a two-game home run in the major leagues. Heck, he’s only hit 20 in 850 professional games. But as Turner later said, speaking of Team USA’s comeback, “When you get punched in the mouth, you have to fight back.”
There will be more punches. much more.
In the fifth, Kyle Tucker hit a home run to restore Team USA’s three-run lead. Lance Lane pitched the first four innings for the USA, allowing only a run on an Aries homer. DeRosa, after a day off, was resting. His first choice was Bard, who allowed four runs in Team USA’s loss to Mexico in the pool game but bounced back scoreless against Colombia.
Bard, 37, has a history of control problems. In 2012, he developed “The Thing,” an inability to drive a strike zone, that kept him out of the majors from 2014 through 2020. His return with the Rockies led to a two-year, $19 million contract extension this past July. But of the 152 relievers who qualified last season, he still has Highest walking average No. 36.
The first sign of trouble for Bard on Saturday night was a five-pitch leadoff walk to Glieber Torres. Andrés Giménez followed with a single. Bard threw a wild pitch to advance runners. Then came the appearance of the plate that would be the latest fodder for WBC pundits, who seem to ignore that unfortunate injuries happen in spring training games as well.
Jose Altuve was Bard’s third batter, so DeRosa couldn’t pull him off at that point without violating the three strikeout minimum. But based on Bard’s history, including his tournament debut, it can reasonably be argued that he should never have played. It can definitely be argued that DeRosa should have removed it after he hit Altuve right handed with a 96 mph sinker. Bard proceeded to throw a second wild pitch, scored, and issued another walk. He was ultimately charged with four runs.
Why didn’t DeRosa start another reliever warmup the moment Bard released his prep run? The manager said that under the constraints of the big clubs, once a reliever is up, he needs to pitch in. However, even with limited flexibility, DeRosa shouldn’t risk losing the elimination game.
The Astros will provide more information on Altuve’s condition on Sunday, but he left the park with his thumb wrapped, the initial fear being that he had a broken finger. Lopez, the Astros’ first base coach, said he was “very worried” about Altuve and “very worried.” Venezuela took the lead after Altuve was injured. Altuve’s injury was so annoying, Lopez said, “all kind of dugouts died.”
Just as Edwin Diaz’s dreaded knee injury overshadowed Puerto Rico’s stunning upset in the Dominican Republic, Altuve’s injury took away some of the sparkle from what DeRosa described as “one of the greatest matches I’ve been in.” However, the American players were still fussy as they left the park, skeptical about what they’d been through. crowd. the noise. Grand slams by Turner, scoreless innings by Devin Williams and Ryan Pressley to preserve the victory.
“Brady Singer (The Royals’) was asking me what the playoffs are like,” said American reliever Adam Ottavino, who has been in eight different postseason series for four different clubs. “I was like, I don’t even know if they’re like that. This was the best atmosphere I’ve been in. It was so much fun to be a part of it, even if we may have lost it.”
Realmuto, echoing Ottavino’s thoughts, sent a subtle message to those who chose not to participate. “I can’t believe anyone would rather stay in spring training than play in a game like that,” said Realmuto. “So much pride on the line. So much fun. It was obvious to both teams how much this match meant.”
However, for Team USA to successfully defend their WBC title, they would need to win two more matches that could be just as strong. The first will be Sunday night in the semifinals against Cuba, where Adam Wainwright will start against Ruinis Elias. The second will be against the semi-final winners Mexico and Japan in the championship game on Tuesday.
DeRosa used six relievers against Venezuela, but Kendall Graveman and Aaron Loup did not pitch. Nick Martinez left the team on Saturday to rejoin the Padres, but Singer, Kyle Freeland and Merrill Kelly are among the first who should be available to rest against Cuba, assuming Miles Mikolas is late to start a potential final game.
It sounds crazy, yet the regular season looms as a disappointment. The competition in the WBC is pure. The atmosphere in Miami is unique. The roof is closed at LoDepot Park, which makes the blaring music and blaring fans blaring even louder. Kyle Schwarber said he had never been in a game in March with such electricity. Presley added, “It makes me want to play at Winterball and see how those fans are affected.”
It’s stressful. It’s exhilarating. And it’s not over yet.
(Top photo: Eric Espada/Getty Images)
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