Canada Defends Pan AM Baseball Gold in Wild Finish Against Americans
Botched U.S. pickoff attempt and error allow winning runs after weird extra-inning format puts two runners on.
In what resembled a little league tournament game organizers were hoping to end quickly, Canada beat the United States in a wacky walk-off to repeat as Pan Am gold medallists in men’s baseball Sunday night.
“The way it ended, I’m still kind of confused,” said Pete Orr, who scored the winning run for Canada. “It doesn’t seem like it’s real yet. But getting the medal at home, it’s great, it’s awesome.”
With Canada and the U.S. tied 4-4 after nine innings, the game entered the Pan Ams’ tiebreaker twilight zone. As per the tournament’s unusual extra-inning rules, each team started the 10th with runners at first and second with none out, while hitting from any spot in the batting order.
As the terms of the tiebreak were announced, boos rained down from the sold-out Ajax crowd, who had just taken in an entertaining, see-saw battle between the baseball rivals.
The U.S. scored a pair of runs in the top half of the extra inning as they bunted their free runners over before Tyler Pastornicky — the former Atlanta Braves’ shortstop — smacked a two-run double to left.
The bottom half started terribly for Canada as leadoff hitter Sean Jamieson failed to lay down a bunt, but Orr followed with an RBI single to draw Canada within one. Then things got weird as U.S. reliever David Huff made an errant pickoff attempt at first, allowing the second free baserunner to score. As the ball skittered past the bag and into right field, Orr rounded second and headed for third. Scrambling to get Orr, U.S. first baseman Casey Kotchman airmailed his throw, allowing Orr to score the winning run. It was a bizarre spectacle, played out in front of a boisterous crowd, who cared little how it happened once it was clear Canada had won.
“Crazy, crazy finish,” said Canada’s manager, Ernie Whitt. “It was a great ball game. I hate tiebreak rules like that, but I guess both teams have the same opportunity and they executed and got two runs. We failed to get a bunt down and they tried to put on a pick play and it didn’t work them, but it was good for us.”
When Canada upset the U.S. to win Pan Am gold in men’s baseball four years ago, they were obvious underdogs, having medalled just once before in the history of the Games. Suffice to say they won’t be able to claim that status any longer. Canada is now the only country other than Cuba to win back-to-back Pan Am gold. “It’s great to win and to defend the title on our own soil,” Whitt said.
Veteran left-hander Jeff Francis, of North Delta, B.C., drew the start and pitched solidly, and Toronto-born outfielder Rene Tosoni provided the bulk of Canada’s offence with a three-run homer in the third inning.
Francis, the 11-year big-league veteran who signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays this year and has pitched in eight games for Toronto, weathered an early storm from the U.S. and kept Canada in it until their offence was able to break through.
The 34-year-old was poised and crafty, out-pitching USA’s Josh Hader, a fellow southpaw who was 10 years old when Francis made his big-league debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2004. That experience proved important as Francis appeared unfazed when the U.S. jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the second inning when — with a strong wind blowing out — designated hitter Patrick Kievlehan sent a hanging curveball over the fence in right field.
But Francis settled in and kept Canada close, eventually passing the baton to Andrew Albers and Chris Leroux. Entering the tournament as the defending champion, Canada stormed through the preliminary round largely on the back of its veteran pitching staff, which allowed by far the fewest runs in the tournament.
“Our pitching and defence the whole tournament was just outstanding,” Whitt said. “I can’t say enough. I had a feeling that was going to be our strong point and I’m just a firm believer that if you have pitching and defence you’re going to win a lot of ball games.”
Speaking of the ongoing success of Canada’s national baseball program, Orr said a lot of credit should go to national director and head coach Greg Hamilton, who has guided the program over the last decade. “It’s about us,” Orr said. “We get the opportunity to represent our country. But it’s also about every kid who plays baseball in Canada.”
By: Toronto Star