Never Say Die: US Advances with Ninth-Inning Rally

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IMarch 18, 2009

After leaving runners in scoring position all night long, the United States finally got the clutch hit they needed.

With one run already in and the bases loaded, David Wright lined a single down the right-field line, scoring Brian Roberts and Jimmy Rollins, giving the US a 6-5 victory over the same Puerto Rican team that had demolished them 11-1 in just seven innings.

This was the second game in which the US had faced elimination. Their victory over the Classic's Cinderella team the Netherlands on Sunday allowed them to seek revenge against the Puerto Ricans.

The game ebbed and flowed. The Puerto Ricans took an early 1-0 lead, only to see the US score two of their own in the bottom of the inning. By the middle of the fourth, the game was tied and both teams were well into their already spent bullpens.

The Puerto Ricans took what appeared to be the last lead they would need in the sixth inning and then padded it with another run in the ninth. The two run lead seemed to be enough, considering the US had stranded runners in scoring position in the previous two innings.

Shane Victorino and recent addition Brian Roberts both singled to open the US' final frame, but Derek Jeter was unable to advance the runners.

With one out, Jimmy Rollins walked and, after a pitching change, Kevin Youkilis did the same to push Victorino across, cutting the deficit to one.

David Wright took three pitches from Fernando Cabrera, then lined a knee-high fastball over the head of first baseman Carlos Delgado, Wright's teammate on the New York Mets, securing the United States' passage into the semifinals.

Irrespective of how Team USA plays from here on out, they have already outdone their 2006 counterparts who faltered in the second round and were knocked out by Team Mexico.

Before the next round, The US will get a chance to replace their injured players like Matt Lindstrom, Chipper Jones, and perhaps Ryan Braun.

Replacements have not yet been announced, but Lindstrom will need to be relieved by a pitcher and Jones by a position player, though not necessarily an infielder. Having healthy players will be a huge boon to team USA's chances of making the finals, and they will certainly need all the help they can get.

From here on out, Team USA will play nothing but the best the world has to offer. Wednesday, they will play Venezuela for the third time in the tournament for seeding in the semifinal round.

Once semifinal play begins, the US will be paired with either reigning World Baseball Classic champion Japan, reigning Olympic gold medalists Korea, or perennial powerhouse (and 2008 silver medalist) Cuba. There simply isn't an easy path to the finals.

Still, the US has played reasonably well, and when they return to full strength, they will still be one of the best teams left in the tournament.