The United States broke out of its offensive funk that lasted for nearly 14 innings over the first two games of the 2013 World Baseball Classic on Saturday against Italy with a 6-2 win.
The victory for Team USA sets up a showdown against Canada on Sunday afternoon that will determine who the second team to come out of Pool D will be. Italy had already secured its spot even before this loss thanks to two victories over Mexico and Canada.
David Wright was the hero for the United States Saturday night in Phoenix. The U.S. was constantly threatening in the first four innings, putting its first two hitters on base two times with only one run to show for it.
The fifth inning changed everything, as the big bats came out, led by Wright's two-out grand slam to put Team USA up 6-2. That would be all the offense needed in this game, as Ryan Vogelsong started the game shaky but settled down to throw four innings, allowing just two runs on six hits and striking out four.
As Tony Lastoria of IndiansBaseballInsider.com tweeted after Wright's dinger, the United States desperately needed that right when it happened.
Tony Lastoria @TonyIBI
USA needed that. The hitters have been REALLY pressing the first two games. Were 2-for-19 with RISP prior to that inning.2013-3-10 03:48:48
Here is a closer look at the key players from the game and a glimpse ahead to what the United States has in store for Sunday.
Grades for USA
David Wright, 3B
Wright gave the United States the hit that the team has been looking for in the last two days when he hit the grand slam off Matt Torra with two outs in the top of the fifth inning.
Prior to that moment, the United States was fighting at 2-2 and had no momentum going once runners got on base. The New York Mets star's hit may not have completely opened the floodgates, but it did give the team a win it desperately needed.
Chris Singleton of ESPN shared his enthusiasm for the moment:
Chris Singleton @Singytweets
USA baybay!!!2013-3-10 03:47:56
Even if Wright does nothing else in this tournament, he will have this moment to remember forever.
Ryan Vogelsong, SP
Things started off shaky for Vogelsong. Like R.A. Dickey the previous night, he gave up one run in each of the first two innings and just didn't look like he had his stuff. But the difference between a regular pitcher with multiple weapons and a knuckleballer is the ability to find yourself.
Vogelsong settled down after the second inning and shut down the Italian offense. He also struck out four consecutive hitters in the third and fourth innings. He came out to start the fifth inning but was pulled after giving up a single.
It wasn't the best game pitched, but Vogelsong's ability to limit the damage early and find himself later made it possible for Team USA to find its groove on offense.
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Phillips set the table for the big bats in the middle of the order by getting on base early and often. Phillips, in particular, had a terrific performance against Italy.
Phillips singled in Adam Jones in the five-run fifth inning and made a fantastic defensive play in the bottom of the sixth, diving into the center field grass and throwing back across his body to get the out.
It seemed an odd move to have Phillips hitting second in this lineup, especially with hitters like Giancarlo Stanton and Eric Hosmer, but he more than held his own in that spot on Saturday.
Grades for Italy
Nick Punto, 2B
The idea of Nick Punto leading off for a team seems laughable on the surface. Nine times out of 10 it would look like a silly move, but on this day, the diminutive second baseman made it work. He collected two hits and scored a run.
There were not a lot of bright spots for Italy after the second inning, but Punto provided a necessary spark early in the game and gave his squad a chance to knock off the favorites. He didn't do anything spectacular, just played a solid game.
Marco Grifantini and Matt Torra, RP
The game was moving at a perfect pace for Italy early with starting pitcher Luca Panerati successfully working around three hits in the first three innings to keep the U.S. off the board.
Unfortunately, the pitch-count rules prevented Panerati from staying in the game very long, leaving the bullpen to do a lot of work. Grifantini was the first one into the game and allowed three runs on three hits in one inning of work. He also allowed two men to get on base before being pulled in the fifth inning.
Torra followed Grifantini out of the bullpen and had all sorts of problems. He gave up three runs on just two hits and one walk in one inning of work. He also allowed the grand slam to Wright that put the Americans ahead for good.
When you don't have a deep bullpen, you need to get quick outs and hope that the other team just doesn't have its timing down to score a lot of runs. That wasn't the case for Grifantini and Torra on Saturday.
Italy's 4-7 hitters (Alex Liddi, Mike Costanzo, Mario Chiarini, Lorenzo Avagnina)
Italy's offense came into this game red hot. The team had just mercy-ruled a good Canada team on Friday. But things came apart in spectacular fashion on Saturday night.
As a group, the No. 4-7 hitters who started the game for Italy went hitless and struck out four times on the day. If you want to know why Italy couldn't string together anything after the first two innings, look no further than this part of the lineup.
There was a lot of weak contact and groundballs hit right at infielders, making it easy for U.S. relievers to make quick work of Italy as the game went on.
Italy earned a berth in the second round of the World Baseball Classic as soon as Canada defeated Mexico earlier in the day.
Meanwhile, the United States will close out pool play against Canada in a winner-moves-on situation for both teams. Team USA will start Derek Holland and Canada will counter with Jameson Taillon.