Venezuala shuts out Australia to advance

Updated: March 10, 2006, 2:51 AM ET
Associated Press


KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Dominant pitching put Venezuela in the second round of the World Baseball Classic.

Kelvim Escobar helped shut down a feeble Australia lineup and Ramon Hernandez homered, leading Venezuela to a 2-0 win Thursday night in a game that was much more competitive than expected.

The victory sends Venezuela (2-1) and the Dominican Republic (2-0) to San Juan in a loaded group that also includes Puerto Rico and Cuba.

"It's a great feeling," said Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana, who will start Venezuela's second-round opener Sunday against the winner of Friday night's game between Puerto Rico and Cuba.

"From now on it's going to be very interesting what's going to happen in Puerto Rico. But we're excited about it and we're looking forward to that."

Led by a pitching staff sprinkled with top major league arms, Venezuela allowed only three total hits in consecutive shutouts over Italy and Australia the past two nights.

"The pitching has been great. They all want the ball. It's making it tough for me when I get to the ballpark, because I see all these guys going to my office and they all want the ball," Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said. "But we've got to make a decision and tonight it was the right one."

Australia, which won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, managed just one hit for the second game in a row. The first was an embarrassing 10-0 loss to Italy on Tuesday night that was stopped in the seventh inning due to the mercy rule.

Letting loose with a 96 mph fastball, Escobar struck out five in 4 2-3 innings for the win. The Los Angeles Angels' right-hander wriggled out of a jam in the fourth and threw 63 pitches.

"I don't know about overpowering them. I was throwing the ball very well and keeping the ball down in the zone and changing speeds," Escobar said. "The second round is going to be a little tougher. We're going to face some better teams."

Tony Armas Jr., Gustavo Chacin, Jorge Julio and Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez followed with hitless relief as Venezuela piled up 13 strikeouts.

Rodriguez pitched a perfect ninth for the save.

Plenty of rabid fans will likely follow Venezuela to the next site. Wrapped in bright yellow flags, bandanas and court-jester hats, they filled The Ballpark at Disney and happily celebrated a collection of talent that rivals any in the tournament.

The crowd of 10,111 sang, danced and chanted -- especially for young slugger Miguel Cabrera. They did the wave, blared air horns and even ran around on top of the dugout flashing their national colors -- no security required.

Surprisingly, Australia's pitchers held a dangerous Venezuela lineup in check despite walking 13 batters. Venezuela got just four hits and stranded 14 runners.

"You need to nibble around the edges with these guys and we did make quality pitches when we had to, with runners on base," Australia manager Jon Deeble said.

Phil Brassington, a 35-year-old knuckleballer who did not pitch in 2005 and was selling houses back home in Canberra two months ago, started and yielded only Hernandez's homer in a hard-luck loss.

"I'm still trying to deal with my clients over e-mail," Brassington said. "I'm trying to keep them happy. Some of them don't even know I'm over here."

Brassington, who has played for such teams as the Canberra Bushrangers and Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League, was selected in the fifth round of the 1993 major league draft by the Kansas City Royals but never reached the big leagues.

"Basically I had accepted the fact that my career was over," he said. "So it's been a bit of a shock for me, actually, to step up and be around this again after such a long time."

Peter Moylan was even more impressive in relief, striking out Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez and Hernandez, until unraveling in the sixth with three straight walks. The last one, to Omar Vizquel, forced in the second run.

Escobar gave up only Bradley Harman's single in the third. Harman was caught stealing and Escobar faced the minimum until the fourth, when he issued a pair of walks.

Trent Durrington of the Boston Red Sox stole second and third, but ex-major leaguer David Nilsson bounced into an inning-ending double play with runners at the corners.

Hernandez, the Baltimore Orioles' new catcher, led off the second inning with a drive over the left-field fence.

Game notes
Switch-hitter Carlos Guillen batted from the right side against Brassington, a right-hander. ... The Dominicans won Pool D and will play the loser of the Puerto Rico-Cuba game on Sunday night.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press