You would think the 4th game of a tournament isn't exactly pivotal for both teams to win. But, with both of them sitting at 1-2 and some stiff competition ahead of them, it became very important.
Both the United States and Canada lost to Cuba by one run and both have yet to face favorite Japan, who fell to 2-2 on the tournament after losing to South Korea.
With both Cuba and South Korea still undefeated and looking pretty much like locks to make the medal round, the final three games for each team is very important.
Consider the United States to have a leg up on that race after they fought back to beat Canada by one run.
For awhile, it looked as if Canada's team of coaches, ex-major leaguers and all-around baseball misfits would topple the prospect laden United States. However a Brian Barden led charge put the United States record at an even 2-2.
Davey Johnson preserved left-handed Starter Brett Anderson just for this game. The Canadian lineup is filled with left-handed hitters from top to bottom. It's no surprise Johnson saved up his best left-handed starter and his best left-handed reliever for this game.
Backed with a vicious slider, Anderson got a very quick first inning under his belt. But, Canada charged back in the 2nd with a Emerson Frostad double that scored Nick Weglarz all the way from first.
The ball was well hit but had there been a more agile player in left field than Matt LaPorta, that run may have never happened.
Canada jumped on a 2-0 lead after Manny Garcia tripled in Stubby Clapp from first. Garcia would later score on an RBI ground out to give the Canadians an early 3-0 edge.
Trying to respond, John Gall singled to start the inning, but a sharp liner up the middle off the bat of catcher Lou Marson was snared by a diving Clapp to pretty much kill the momentum.
Canada would carry the great defensive play into the 4th inning to add onto the lead at the expense of a United States error. Chris Robinson and Matt Rogelstad executed a perfect hit and run to put runners on the corners with just one out. Former Boston Red Sox Adam Stern then eased one over the head of Jason Donald, who committed the initial error, to give Canada a 4-0 lead.
From there, it was all United States as they mounted their comeback. Cardinals prospect Brian Barden starting in place of the injured Jayson Nix, who will miss the rest of the Olympics, took a pitch the opposite way for his first home run.
Clearly on the ropes after the home run, Canadian starter James Avery was rattled. After giving up two hard hit fly balls that resulted in outs, Nate Schierholtz would find some turf as he lined a double down the first base line. After hitting Matt LaPorta, Avery would get sent to the showers thanks to John Gall's RBI single.
He was relieved by Philadelphia Phillies prospect Robert Swindle, who struck out former Double-A Reading teammate Lou Marson to end the inning.
Anderson pitches a quick fifth inning for the United States to get them back on the offensive side of the ball. This time it's Jason Donald on the right side of an error as he reaches base. After a fielder’s choice and a ground out, Dexter Fowler scores from second on a Terry Tiffee double to pull the US within one.
Anderson went back out for the sixth and struck out a pair before being victimized by the defense of LaPorta once again. The single turned into a double and another hit forces Davey Johnson to make a change.
Twins starting pitching prospect Brian Duensing, another left-hander, came in to get Adam Stern with a strikeout to end the threat.
The 7th inning would be the inning that the United States takes over the game completely. Lou Marson walked to lead-off the inning and Donald would bunt him over. After the struggling Fowler popped out it looked like the Americans would once again squander an opportunity.
Tell that to Brian Barden, who would deliver once again with an RBI double to tie the game off former Brave and operating room favorite Chris Rietsma. Canada would go to another former major leaguer in Rheal Cormier to try and get out Quad-A player Terry Tiffee.
Tiffee would get the better of the match-up as he hit his 5th extra base hit of the tournament to give the United States the lead for good.
Meanwhile, Brian Duensing rolled through the Canadian lineup. He would finish with 3.1 innings of work, with just one hit and three strikeouts to earn the win.
The 8th inning would provide the second teammate match-up of the game as Cleveland Indians prospects TJ Burton and Matt LaPorta, both playing for Akron, would meet. Burton walked LaPorta on four pitches but would be erased on the John Gall double play.
Burton would play with fire as he loaded the bases up on two hits and a walk after getting two outs, but a harmless fly out by Barden would end the inning and the chance to add insurance for the US.
Sticking with Duensing, skipper Davey Johnson was put on edge after Stubby Clapp riffled one down the right side. The ball would bounce off the wall just foul, but surely would have scored the runner on base with two outs to tie the game. However, Duensing would get Clapp to pop out to end the game.
With Jayson Nix out, leaving the United States short handed in the infield department, Johnson must re-evaluate where he is going with his lineup against a China team fighting for their tournament lives on Monday.
The first move would be to remove the scuffling Dexter Fowler from the lead-off spot. Fowler is the second highest touted prospect in the lineup behind LaPorta, but he is also the second most struggling player in the lineup behind LaPorta.
Fowler and LaPorta are both hitting just .071 for the tournament.
Johnson also needs to find a way to get LaPorta out of the outfield and into first base or the designated hitter spot. John Gall is in the same boat, but LaPorta's defense has been very costly up to this point.
Rumor has it though the Indians might be forcing the United States to give LaPorta starts in the outfield.
The injury to Nix puts Davey Johnson into a bind in terms of late inning substitutions. Mike Hessman has power but not enough versatility or defensive prowess to be playing late in the game.
After the Sunday off-day, China and United States will play at 7 a.m. ET on Monday. Unless he decides to skip a start and go back to Brandon Knight, Jake Arrieta will pitch for go for the US.
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