Round 2, Pool 2, Game 2 | Tue, Mar 12

USA 7, PUR 1

MIAMI — Gio Gon­za­lez came home and pitched pre­cise­ly as adver­tised for Team USA on Tues­day night in the sec­ond round of the World Base­ball Classic.

The Nation­als left-han­der tossed five innings of shutout, three-hit ball and David Wright drove in five runs as the Amer­i­cans defeat­ed Puer­to Rico, 7–1, at Mar­lins Park. The new home of the Mar­lins is about 10 miles south­east of Hialeah, Fla., where Gon­za­lez was raised, and a crowd of 32,872 was high­ly par­ti­san, chant­i­ng “USA, USA” through­out the night.

The Mets third base­man had an RBI grounder, a run-scor­ing sin­gle and put an excla­ma­tion point on the win with an eighth-inning, bases-clear­ing dou­ble, giv­ing him 10 RBIs in the four U.S. games, includ­ing a game-win­ning grand slam on Sat­ur­day night against Italy. Head­ing into Tues­day night’s game, Gon­za­lez called the oppor­tu­ni­ty, “a kid’s dream.” He was­n’t disappointed.

“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 after strik­ing out five, walk­ing none and get­ting cred­it for the win. “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.”

The win for the Amer­i­cans in this dou­ble-elim­i­na­tion brack­et sets up a Clas­sic match against the unde­feat­ed Domini­can Repub­lic here on Thurs­day night at 7 ET, a game that can be seen on MLB Net­work and ESPN Deportes. The win­ner of that one earns a spot in the semi­fi­nals at San Fran­cis­co’s AT&T Park on Sun­day or Monday.

The Japan­ese play the sec­ond seed from Pool 2 on Sun­day at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT and the King­dom of the Nether­lands faces the top seed on Mon­day at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. The final game is next Tues­day at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. Japan won the first two Clas­sics in 2006 and ’09.

Mean­while, Puer­to Rico plays an elim­i­na­tion game here against Italy on Wednes­day night at 7 ET. The Ital­ians lost to the D.R., 5–4, on Tues­day after squan­der­ing a 4–0 lead. The win­ner of that one remains alive and the los­er is out of the tournament.

For the Amer­i­cans, the worst thing that could hap­pen should they lose to the D.R. is an elim­i­na­tion match against either Italy or Puer­to Rico on Fri­day night at 7 p.m. ET. And they’ve already defeat­ed both of those teams in the tour­na­ment by a com­bined score of 13–3.

All of the games for the remain­der of the tour­na­ment are slat­ed to be broad­cast­ed on MLB Net­work and ESPN Deportes.

“Do I feel we’re in a good posi­tion?” Team USA man­ag­er Joe Torre said in response to that ques­tion. “I mean, we want to win every game we play. That’s the only way we look at it. We can’t start try­ing to fig­ure things. No, we need to go out and play hard every game because you don’t know what’s going to hap­pen. You can say we beat a team by so many runs, but at any giv­en time any one of these clubs can beat you, so you just have to be ready to go.”

As far as Gon­za­lez is con­cerned, he remained with the Nation­als last week­end as the U.S. strug­gled to make it out of the first round in Phoenix. This was his fourth start of the spring and he looked exceed­ing­ly sharp, toss­ing 69 pitch­es, 11 under the sec­ond-round lim­it of 80 for a starter.

He’s on track to pitch five or six days from now in a semi­fi­nal game at San Fran­cis­co and plans to remain with the team even though he will be a spec­ta­tor as the brack­et plays out. Gio was no spec­ta­tor on Tues­day as he kept the P.R. off-bal­ance, allow­ing only three baserun­ners and nev­er any more than one 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, who has 15 RBIs in his pair of Clas­sic appear­ances in 2009 and this year, par­layed a great day in the tour­na­ment for a pair of New York star play­ers. Ear­li­er in the day, Yan­kees sec­ond base­man Robin­son Cano spurred the Domini­can on to its big win by going 3‑for‑4 with a homer and scor­ing the game-win­ning run. In the tour­na­ment, Cano is 12-for-19 (.632) with two homers, four dou­bles, six RBIs, five runs scored and 22 total bases.

Wright is 7‑for-16 (.438) with a homer, two dou­bles, 10 RBIs, four runs scored and 12 total bases, earn­ing him the new nick­name, “Cap­tain Amer­i­ca.” Wright has been down­play­ing his per­son­al accom­plish­ments through­out the tour­na­ment and that did­n’t change after the game.

“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.”

Bar­ry M. Bloom is nation­al reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Boom­skie on Base­ball. Fol­low @boomskie on Twit­ter. This sto­ry was not sub­ject to the approval of Major League Base­ball or its clubs.