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Posted: Saturday March 14, 2009 10:54PM; Updated: Sunday March 15, 2009 12:51AM
Jon Heyman Jon Heyman >
INSIDE BASEBALL

U.S. team awful in mercy-rule loss

Story Highlights

This surely is a nice Puerto Rican team, but it shouldn't dominate the U.S.

A loss to the Dutch on Sunday night would be a second embarrassment

The mercy-rule loss to Puerto Rico can be pinned on many culprits

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Things could not have gone much worse for Derek Jeter and Team USA.
AP

MIAMI -- Things began ominously for the USA team, with AL MVP Dustin Pedroia being hauled out of here in street clothes. Pedroia was headed back to Red Sox headquarters across the state in Ft. Myers, where a Nation will await the MRI on his injured left oblique muscle.

Meanwhile, this nation, the United States of America, doesn't need to await the verdict on its team. It looks very bad.

Pathetically, the 10-run mercy rule needed to be invoked in the U.S.'s stunning 11-1 World Baseball Classic defeat to Puerto Rico. That rule is used to avoid embarrassment. It didn't work.

Team USA moved quickly into the losers' bracket, without much fuss or any commotion, the result of the embarrassing defeat to a spirited Puerto Rican team that hammered U.S. ace pitcher Jake Peavy and others. On a night that was nothing short of a pathetic day for U.S. baseball, Mike Aviles' two-run single off Matt Thornton mercifully ended things in the bottom of the seventh inning to the delight of a majority of the crowd, which cheered the Puerto Ricans.

A few U.S. players seemed to be unaware they fell victim to the mercy rule and appeared to be returning to their positions when they were removed from the field. All that was missing was the gong as they all eventually left.

The Puerto Ricans feature nice a mix of major-league stars like Carlos Beltran (who starred Saturday) plus Carlos Delgado and Pudge Rodriguez (who both continued to excel), some minor-leaguers and an occasional nostalgia types like Bernie Williams. This surely is a nice Puerto Rican team, but it shouldn't dominate a U.S. team like this.

"It's not a good feeling, it's tough to swallow,'' Brian McCann said. "No one in that locker room expected to get beat by the run rule.''

"The only word that comes to me ... it's embarrassing,'' Adam Dunn said.

"Sure, it's embarrassing. But you can't hang your heads too long. We've got a game (Sunday),'' Derek Jeter said.

Specifically, the sorrowful defeat puts the U.S.team against the upstart Netherlands team Sunday night. A loss to the Dutch looms as a possibility now, and it would be nothing short of a second embarrassment. The U.S. proved that anything's possible. Same goes for the feisty Dutch team.

While Netherlands is the most pleasant surprise in the tournament despite its 3-1 loss to Venezuela earlier in the day, the U.S. has to be considered a major disappointment to date. The flu bug has hit the American (with Mark DeRosa, Ryan Braun and Adam Dunn among the sufferers), but their real malaise is baseball related.

No excuses. The U.S. team was just plain terrible. Here are some of Saturday night's culprits:

• DeRosa, who was pressed to play after Dustin Pedroia came up lame, struck out twice, including once when a grounder to the middle infield would have produced a run, and also fouled out in his awful three at-bats. After he took a looping curveball down the middle for a called strike three, DeRosa was caught on camera throwing his bat at the bat rack.

Chipper Jones, who is said not to be 100 percent, looked less than healthy (not to mention less than chipper) after taking yet another collar (0-for-3);

• The one through four hitters were a combined 0-for-12;

• Dunn continued to be team USA's biggest threat at the plate, with two more hits, but looked like a piker in right field. He should have caught Ivan Rodriguez's sinking liner that went for a gift double;

• Dunn was stopped at third by Hall of Fame third baseman but neophyte third-base coach Mike Schmidt, as Braun's single to center should have scored him, especially after Puerto Rico's center fielder Beltran booted the ball (even after the boot, Dunn held, then was stranded when reliever Javier Lopez got Brian McCann and DeRosa).

Even if the U.S. teams looked better on paper, it was no match on the field, where Puerto Rico dominated every facet. Puerto Rico's starting pitcher Javier Vazquez, who's known here as a solid innings eater who supposedly chokes in big games, pitched a solid five innings before four relievers shut down the vaunted U.S. lineup.

Pitching against a lineup of All Stars, Vazquez belied his rep and dominated the U.S. team. He was the pitcher the Braves acquired in trade when they failed to land their top choice, who happened to be Peavy.

Peavy was gone after two innings. But the by the time he was out, the game was over, and his trade value had dropped precipitously.

Peavy, it was noted later, was one of the ill players on the U.S. team. Yet, U.S. manager Davey Johnson said he left Peavy in there to complete the four-run second inning "to let him get a little more work.'' While telling us this is more than an exhibition game, the U.S. team still treats it like one.

Johnson actually rushed back from his stepson's wedding across the state in St. Petersburg in time to catch Peavy's act, and the rest of his lame team's performance.

It was Johnson who urged the team several days ago to commit fully to the team, and not treat it like an exhibition. But you have to wonder whether any of that message was lost in translation when Johnson missed Friday's practice presumably for the rehearsal dinner, and was slated to be replaced on Saturday by coach Barry Larkin, the former great Reds player.

Johnson was said to have "hustled'' back to the WBC, but his surprising early appearance didn't exactly inspire anyone.

 
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