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03/17/2006 Archived Entry: "VIVA BEISBOL Extra (Mexican Pro Baseball News)"

Cantu stars again as Clemens, United States ousted from WBC

ANAHEIM – As far as wins go, it’s pretty hard to top this one. Oliver Perez and seven relievers combined to throw a three-hitter as Mexico topped the United States 2-1 Thursday night to eliminate the USA from the World Baseball Classic in what may very well be the biggest international victory in the long history of Mexican baseball. While the Mexicans scored an upset win over the USA in the Olympics earlier this decade, it was against a bunch of players NOT named Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez or Chipper Jones. Or Roger Clemens.

While the future Hall of Famer did not pitch badly, giving up two runs while striking out four batters in four innings, Perez was better. Although Perez was not credited with the win (Edgar Gonzalez was), he definitely came out and set the tone by allowing just one single over the first three innings before being replaced by Francisco Campos for the top of the fourth. By that time, Mexico had a 1-0 lead, thanks to Mario Valenzuela and Jorge Cantu.

One of the most consistent and feared batsmen in Mexican baseball, Valenzuela had not had a memorable WBC until the bottom of the fourth, when he stroked a long fly ball to right field that grazed the foul pole for an apparent home run. However, the umpires ruled that the ball actually struck just below the fence line, and Valenzuela had to settle for a double. Mexico manager Paquin Estrada stormed out of the dugout to protest, but to no avail as umpires gave the United States the benefit of the doubt on a controversial call for the second time this week. Video replays showed the hit was clearly a home run. Justice was served three batters later when Cantu poked a single up the middle to score Valenzuela.

The USA quickly tied the game up at 1-1 in the top of the fourth when Jones doubled off Campos and later plated a run on Vernon Wells’ sacrifice fly. Mexico went down quietly in the bottom of the frame and Gonzalez survived a shaky fifth inning in relief before Cantu again performed some magic for the Tricolores against Clemens. After Valenzuela and Alfredo Amezaga singled off the Rocket (and Amezaga subsequently swiped second base), Cantu drilled another single to score Valenzuela again to put the Mexicans ahead for good. David Cortes came on with two runners on base and one out in the ninth to induce Wells to hit into a 6-4-3 double play on his first pitch to end the game and earn the save…and a place in Mexican baseball lore.

It would be hard to imagine anyone but Cantu considered the MVP of a Mexican team which finished Pool 1 play with a 1-2 record and had a 3-3 overall mark in the WBC. The Tampa Bay infielder batted .333 for the Classic, and showed a real knack for coming through in the clutch. It is also hard to ignore Estrada’s pitching staff, which was one of the Classic’s best. In some ways, while Mexico’s win ranks as the biggest upset in a tournament which has seen its share, one cannot call it an outright miracle. Most people would just call it great pitching.

Although they needed a 3-0 win over the USA to get a tiebreaker nod over Japan for the second Pool 1 berth behind South Korea in the semis, it was still a glorious way to finish the inaugural World Baseball Classic for the Mexicans.

UNITED STATES ……….…………………………………………. 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 - 1 3 0
MEXICO …………………………..……………………………..… 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 x - 2 6 1
WP-Edgar Gonzalez. LP-Roger Clemens. SV-David Cortes. T-2:50. A-38,284.

-Bruce Baskin

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