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Gio Gonzalez excited for hometown start in World Baseball Classic
MIAMI — Gio Gonzalez munched on chicken wings and shrimp scampi at a sports bar in his hometown as he watched Team USA rally to stay alive in the World Baseball Classic.
The next game he’ll take in from the mound. The Washington Nationals left-hander will start for the United States in its opener of round two Tuesday night against Puerto Rico.
The U.S. team rallied with seven runs in the last two innings Sunday to advance by beating Canada 9-4 in Phoenix.
Gonzalez wasn’t with the team in Arizona. He left the Nationals’ camp in central Florida before the U.S. game Sunday to make the three-hour drive south.
“I was so confident they were going to win,” he said. “I was ready to go.”
Gonzalez grew up in Hialeah, a short drive from Marlins Park, the site of the second round.
“To be a small town kid from Hialeah, Fla., pitching in Miami and representing Team USA, that says it all,” he said. “It’s a kid’s dream. Don’t pinch me. I don’t want to wake up.”
“At this point, you’re getting the cream,” U.S. manager Joe Torre said. “They’ve all gotten through the first round.”
The Americans almost didn’t make it. They fell behind in all three games in Phoenix, lost their opener and had to rally in the other games.
“It’s March, and we’re playing games that feel like we’re in October,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “That’s the beauty of the World Baseball Classic.”
Hosmer hit a three-run double in the ninth inning to help seal Sunday’s win.
“We want to show the world we know how to play,” he said. “For us not to make it here would have been pretty bad.”
The Americans hit .297 in the opening round, led by David Wright (5 for 11) and Joe Mauer (5 for 12). Wright had the only U.S. home run, a grand slam that helped beat Italy on Saturday.
Eleven relievers have combined for an ERA of 1.93. But Torre’s three starters — R.A. Dickey, Ryan Vogelsong and Derek Holland — have a combined ERA of 6.00.
Gonzalez hopes to fare better. A 21-game winner last year, he’ll be limited to 80 pitches and plans to use them efficiently.
“You want to pitch to contact and get them out,” he said. “You don’t want to save your bullets. You want to go as deep in the game as you can.”
Gonzalez has “Hialeah” stitched into his glove and will be supported by his own cheering section. He obtained tickets for family and friends last year when he pitched for the Nationals against the Marlins, but Gonzalez rooters will be on their own at the WBC.
“I learned my lesson,” he said. “The last time I was here, it was over 600 tickets. I think all of Hialeah came.”
Starting for Puerto Rico will be right-hander Mario Santiago, who has a 36-51 record in seven minor-league seasons and has never made the majors. He said he’ll take his cues from catcher Yadier Molina.
“I’ll follow the best catcher in the world,” Santiago said. “He’ll put his fingers down, and I’ll follow him. Whatever he asks for, that’s what I’m going to pitch.”
The Dominican Republic (3-0) is the only unbeaten team in Miami, and its lineup includes former Marlins Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, both traded during the team’s recent payroll purge.
They said they’re happy to play in Miami again, even though they were part of a dismal 2012 season with the Marlins before the team was dismantled.
“The fans here showed me a lot of love,” Reyes said. “I’m not going to play for the Miami Marlins anymore, but I’m glad to be back here so they can see me one more time.”
Edinson Volquez will start for the Dominicans against Tiago Da Silva and surprising Italy, which is into the second round of the WBC for the first time.
Several major leaguers play for Italy, including Chris Denorfia, Jason Grilli, Nick Punto and Anthony Rizzo. But the other three teams in Miami have a combined 24 All-Stars.
“If you read those lineups, you get scared,” said Marco Mazzieri, Italy’s manager. “You don’t want to really think about that too much.”
By Joy Overbeck
Redemption by government is futile
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