PHOENIX — With one swing, David Wright got the sputtering U.S. team off the mat in the World Baseball Classic.
The New York Mets slugger hit a two-out grand slam and the U.S. pitching did the rest in a 6-2 victory over Italy Saturday night.
Manager Joe Torre said he was finally able “to exhale” after Wright’s hit
“Because we have been teasing ourselves the last couple of days and all of a sudden we blast it open,” Torre said.
The U.S. (1-1) meets Canada (1-1) in the final game of Pool D play on Sunday with the winner advancing to the second round.
Ryan Vogelsong settled down after a shaky start to get the victory. The San Francisco right-hander went four-plus innings, allowing two runs and six hits, striking out four.
The U.S., bouncing back from Friday night’s 5-2 loss to Mexico, fell behind 2-0 after two innings, but shut the Italian squad down on two hits the rest of the way.
“We were in the clubhouse last night and there was dead silence,” Torre said. “It is a pretty determined group and when you look into their eyes you see something special.”
Italy (2-1) clinched a second-round berth for the first time in its WBC history when Mexico lost to Canada earlier Saturday.
Washington’s Ross Detwiler blanked Italy on one hit over the final four innings to get the save.
Vogelsong left after giving up a leadoff single in the fifth, then his Giants teammate Jeremy Affeldt retired three straight to end the inning. Detwiler did the rest.
Vogelsong said the experience was “very similar” to the feelings he had last season in San Francisco’s’ run to the World Series title.
“Same kind of emotions,” he said. “Not exactly how I planned it in my mind, but it was fun.”
Wright, Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Braun had two hits apiece for the United States, which could have lost to Italy and still advanced, but would have needed to beat Canada and deal with the run differential tiebreaker mess in place for the WBC’s first round. Now, all it will take is a victory over the Canadians, who beat Mexico 10-3 in a game married by a big, ninth-inning brawl.
Down 2-1 after four innings, the U.S. finally got the big hit it had been lacking in WBC play.
Adam Jones led off the fifth with a walk, then Jonathan Lucroy singled and Phillips singled Jones home to tie it at 2-2.
Ryan Braun narrowly missed a home run on a foul ball to deep left but struck out, then Joe Mauer walked to load the bases.
That brought up Wright, who hit Matt Torra’s 1-2 pitch over the left field wall several rows into the seats and the United States had its first lead of the tournament, and by a whopping four runs.
‘It’s emotional,” Wright said. “You hear the ‘USA’ chants, you look up in the stands and see the flag.”
The Americans, who were 2 of 13 with runners in scoring position, squandered an early opportunity when Rollins singled and Phillips reached safely on a bunt for a base hit in the first. But Braun hit into a double play and Mauer flew out.
Italy, off to a surprising 2-0 start in the WBC, scored in its half of the first when second baseman Nick Punto singled, advanced to third on Anthony Rizzo’s single and scored on Vogelsong’s wild pitch.
After two outs in the second, Tyler Latorre singled and scored when Anthony Granato, the No. 9 hitter in the order, doubled over Jones’ head in center to make it 2-0.
The U.S. cut it to 2-1 in the fourth when Mauer doubled home Braun.
Meanwhile, Vogelsong was rolling, striking out the final batter in the third and all three in the fourth.
Wright’s slam was the second for the United States in its WBC history. The first was by Jason Varitek against Canada on March 8, 2006.
The second baseman Phillips made a spectacular play to rob Mario Charini to end the sixth inning. The Cincinnati Reds star made a diving stop to his right, then threw from a sitting position to first, throwing his hands in the air in triumph when the ball got to the bag ahead of the runner.
Italy used nine pitchers. The second, Marco Grifantini, took the loss, going one inning plus two batters, allowing three runs and three hits.
Punto said the Italian players gathered in a big room at their hotel to watch the Mexico-Canada game.
“It was an exciting moment for all of us,” he said. “We were in there celebrating, knowing that we were moving on to Miami no matter what.”