Pride was on the line as the Venezuelans took on USA in the final game of Pool C at the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday. The message that was delivered in the end, was clear and precise - Venezuela are here to play.
While both teams had already been assured of a spot in the second round in Miami, Venezuela clearly needed the 5-3 win more than the Americans especially after a 9-run loss to them earlier in the tournament. “We had to make a statement,” said Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo. “I think Venezuela was always waiting for this win after they clobbered us.”
Venezuela ended as winners of Pool C with a 3-1 record and now goes up against the surprise package from the Netherlands. The United States will have to contend with the Pool D winners, Puerto Rico. Both games will take place on Saturday with the Venezuela-Netherlands game kicking off the second round.
Venezuela had 12 hits against the USA and has a combined batting average of .347 in the four games it has played so far in the World Baseball Classics. “I’m really happy, because the guys really are focused,” said Sojo. “They came with an objective. Everyone is really committed. There’s a lot of chemistry within the team, and I think everyone’s bringing forward their own contribution. >
“The great teams win because of that.”
Henry Blanco put the Venezuelans on the board with a home run over left-field against Ted Lilly, the starter for Team USA. He was back in the fifth round when he scored a double off Jeremy Guthrie. He came round to score off an RBI by Gregor Blanco, a triple to center field. Venezeula led 2-1 at this point before a 2-run single by Marco Scutaro gave them a 4-1 advantage.
“This win was very important,” said Scutaro. “Because it gave us the confidence, you know, to get to Miami and know that we can compete against the USA or any other team.”
Victor Zambrano was the starter for the Venezuelans on the night despite being responsible for 4-runs against the Americans in the loss on Sunday. On Wednesday, it was clearly a different Zambrano who turned up as he held the Americans to just three hits and one run in 56 pitches over 3 and 2/3rd innings. >
“What I tried to concentrate on the most was all the positives that have happened in my career in the past,” Zambrano said. “Those are the things, when you put them to good use, especially mentally, it can work very well.”
The bullpen backed up his efforts with an equally tight performance as Jan Granado, Ivan Blanco, Carlos Vasquez and Orber Moreno allowed only 2 runs in 4 and 1/3rd innings. Francisco Rodriguez closed the innings perfectly with a save in the 9th. “Our bullpen was the question mark throughout the whole tournament, and they came through today,” said Sojo. “And I think that’s very important.”
“All of Venezuela knows that all of those that are here to represent the country, are here with one objective, which is to win,” Sojo said.”And we have the team, we have the spirit, the mind. And if God wills and things go well, we’ll be able to maybe party at the end.”