Commentary

Oh mercy: Team USA embarrassed

Loss to Puerto Rico puts Americans in must-win situation

Updated: March 15, 2009, 12:52 PM ET
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Ivan Rodriguez was in the clubhouse putting on his catching gear when his teammates started spilling out of the dugout in celebration. When Rodriguez returned to the bench, he was surprised to see it barren.

"I thought somebody got hit or there was a fight or something," Rodriguez said. "Then I saw the United States team walking back to the dugout and I said, 'Oh my God, it's a knockout.'"

[+] EnlargeAdam Dunn
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesAdam Dunn had two hits, but Team USA's top five hitters went a combined 1-for-15.
It wasn't just a knockout; it was more like throwing in the towel in Saturday's second-round opener of the World Baseball Classic. Puerto Rico beat Team USA 11-1, the game called in seven innings because of the mercy rule. With one more loss, the Americans will be out of the tournament, a fate they vowed not to repeat after they failed to make it out of the second round in 2006. They will try to avoid that fate when they face the Netherlands on Sunday night.

"The only word that comes to mind is 'embarrassment,'" said Team USA left fielder Adam Dunn. "That's unacceptable, that's uncalled for, that's embarrassing. To go out and play like that, you get what you deserve."

When Puerto Rico second baseman Felipe Lopez -- who went 2-for-4 with three RBIs -- crossed the plate as the 11th run, players started spilling out of the dugout in celebration, gathering near first base. At first, the Americans had no idea what had happened. All of them were aware of the mercy rule -- a game is called when a team is ahead by 10 runs after seven innings -- but it hadn't sunk in that it had just happened to them.

"It didn't register until I turned around and saw their team on the field," said second baseman Mark DeRosa.

The night began in Puerto Rico's favor. Although the game was played in the U.S., at Dolphin Stadium, the Florida Marlins' home field, the crowd was largely pro-Puerto Rico. And that shouldn't have come as a surprise, since Puerto Ricans are a growing population in South Florida. Their team wasted no time in asserting itself, scoring six runs off starter Jake Peavy in the first two innings.

"There was a lot of excitement from the outset," Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo said. "And the guys played ball as they should: aggressively."

The pre-tournament discussion about favorites seemed to include Japan, the Dominican Republic, Team USA and Cuba -- not Oquendo's club filled with mostly major leaguers. But Puerto Rico is one of only two undefeated teams left in the WBC (along with Cuba), and is playing fundamentally sound baseball.

The Puerto Ricans have yet to commit an error in the tournament, and haven't had a wild pitch or a passed ball. They've given teams little hope of capitalizing on mistakes, dominating on both sides of the ball. Entering Saturday's game, the pitching staff had a 0.33 ERA (second only to the Dominicans) while hitting .316 as a team, good for fifth. Contrast that to the Americans, whose staff ERA was 5.33.

"Tonight we had a good night," Carlos Beltran said. "We pitched, we played good defense, we hit -- everything turned out well."

What must have U.S. manager Davey Johnson been thinking when he arrived in the dugout by the second inning? Johnson attended his stepson's wedding in St. Petersburg, Fla., before the game, and flew back to Miami when it ended early.

"Maybe I should have stayed longer," he said.

Now his team will oppose the Netherlands, which lost its opening game on Saturday, 3-1 to Venezuela. But the strength of the Netherlands is in its pitching, and that's what the Team USA lineup likely does not need to face right now, having scored four runs in its past two games.

Earlier in the week, Johnson was reflective about his time managing the Netherlands team in 2003, and he was asked, putting all those good feelings aside, what he would like to see as an outcome.

"I want to take the mercy rule to them," he said.

Who would have known that just a few days later that same fate would befall Johnson's own team?

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at amy.k.nelson@espn3.com.

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