Team USA started Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic on the right foot with a 7-1 win over Puerto Rico Tuesday night at Marlins Park. Gio Gonzalez set the tone by shutting down Puerto Rico's offense, and David Wright drove in five runs to bring his RBI total to 10 in four games.
It seemed at first that Gonzalez didn't have his A-game when he gave up a lead-off single to Angel Pagan in the first inning. Puerto Rico choked on the opportunity though when Irving Falu popped up a bunt attempt, Alex Rios popped out to Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Beltran flew out to Adam Jones to end the inning.
Gonzalez gave up only two more hits, walked none and struck out five in his five innings of work in what could be a preview of what the Atlanta Braves will face within the division in 2013. He did all that while playing 10 miles from his hometown of Hialeah, Fla.
"It's still a dream, just to play for these guys and to represent Team USA and be here in Miami, and like I said, I'm a small-town kid from Hialeah, Fla., it's truly a blessing," Gonzalez said on mlb.com "You couldn't have scripted this any better — to pitch the first game and help these guys out as much as possible and try to be a part of it. This was a blessing to be alongside some of the greatest. And to say that I pitched in front of my home crowd and to win, it is truly a dream."
Puerto Rico was routinely kept off-balance while Gonzalez never allowed more than one baserunner in a single inning.
"I think he established his fastball right off the bat," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "The first inning, he already established his fastball. I think he's been doing that for many years, and then his secondary pitch after the second time around, his secondary pitch was working. But everything starts from the fastball, and I think that was the key for him."
Wright, meanwhile, seemed to always come to bat with people on base. He grounded out and drove in a run in the third and singled home a run with the bases loaded in the fifth. He also broke the game open in the eighth with a bases-clearing double to put the score at its 7-1 final.
Wright is now 7-for-16 (.438) with a homer, two doubles, 10 RBIs, four runs scored and 12 total bases in the 2013 WBC, garnering the nickname "Captain America" from MLB Network announcer Matt Vasgersian, but he was quick to downplay himself in favor of the team.
"Well, I mean, we're winning and that's the important thing," Wright said. "Obviously it's nice to get hits, it's nice to drive runs in, but the important thing is obviously hearing those USA chants and getting a chance to win games and enjoy those high fives afterwards. You know, the individual stuff is nice, but ultimately it's about winning that first WBC championship for the United States."
The loss puts Puerto Rico in an elimination game with Italy at 7 ET, and the US goes on to play the Dominican Republic in the winners bracket on Thursday at 7. The winner of that game will go on to the semifinals in San Francisco.