- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

From combined dispatches

UNITED STATES 6, CANADA 5: With big league stars on both sides and national pride at stake, the United States and Canada gave their World Baseball Classic opener an October feel.

Adam Dunn and Brian McCann each hit a two-run homer, and Team USA held off feisty Canada 6-5 on Saturday in Toronto to avenge a surprising loss three years ago.

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“This is a playoff atmosphere,” U.S. pitcher Jake Peavy said. “Everything is on the line, you’re doing everything you can to win and advance in this tournament, and playing for your country just takes that through the roof. It’s as good an atmosphere as it gets, I believe.”

Kevin Youkilis added a solo shot and J.J. Putz closed it out in a nervous ninth inning for Team USA, which was upset by Canada in the inaugural WBC. The United States will play Venezuela on Sunday night for a berth in the second round.

Despite a roster loaded with major league All-Stars, that U.S. squad stumbled to a disappointing eighth-place finish - a big reason this club has talked about taking back America’s game.

The intensity was evident. A fired-up McCann yelled and embraced Putz near the mound after the New York Mets reliever stranded the potential tying run at second base when Jason Bay flied out.

“It was unbelievable,” Putz said. “That was definitely the loudest crowd I’ve ever been a part of. I haven’t pitched in the playoffs, so this is what I think playoff baseball would seem like. It was awesome out there.”

Jimmy Rollins, fresh off Philadelphia’s 2008 World Series title, said beating Canada felt like winning the opener of a postseason series.

“Out here it was opening day, but with the excitement and the importance of getting off to a good start, you could compare that to Game 1 of a World Series,” he said. “You want to get that first win out of the way and then you can take a deep breath.”

VENEZUELA 7, ITALY 0: Carlos Guillen and Melvin Mora hit solo home runs, Bobby Abreu singled in two runs in a four-run fifth inning and Venezuela defeated Italy in Toronto.

Mora went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, and Jose Lopez went 3-for-3 with a walk and scored twice for Venezuela.

Right-hander Felix Hernandez allowed a single in four scoreless innings to earn the victory. He walked two and struck out four.

NETHERLANDS 3, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 2: Missing an injured Alex Rodriguez and several other stars, the Dominican Republic flopped at the plate and was upset by the Netherlands in its opener in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It was a startling loss for the heavily favored Dominicans, considered contenders to win the 16-team tournament. Now, they are one defeat from elimination in Group D pool play.

PUERTO RICO 7, PANAMA 0: Ivan Rodriguez homered twice, Carlos Delgado also connected and Puerto Rico got off to a rousing start, beating Panama in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Javier Vazquez combined with three relievers for a six-hitter in front of a boisterous home crowd of 17,348 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

JAPAN 14, SOUTH KOREA 2: Ichiro Suzuki broke out of a slump as defending champion Japan trounced South Korea in seven innings in Tokyo to advance to the second round.

Suzuki, who went hitless in five at-bats in Japan’s 4-0 win over China on Thursday, went 3-for-5 with three runs scored. Japan improved to 2-0 in Pool A and booked a spot in the second round which starts March 15 in San Diego.

Olympic champion South Korea will play China on Sunday with the winner also advancing. China upset Taiwan 4-1 in Saturday’s first game.

CHINA 4, TAIWAN 1: Ray Chang homered and drove in two runs, and China beat Taiwan in Tokyo for its first win in the World Baseball Classic.

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