MIAMI — Everything went right for Team USA in a pivotal eighth inning against Venezuela, but no swing was more important than the one that belonged to the nine-hole hitter.
Trailing Venezuela by two runs, USA loaded the bases with nobody out against left-hander José Quijada. Tim Anderson drew a walk, Pete Alonso hit a pinch-hit single and J.T. Realmuto was hit by a pitch.
Venezuela manager Omar Lopez replaced Quijada with right-hander Silvino Bracho, who was walking into a nightmare situation. Not only would Bracho attempt to get his first hitter out, but looming right behind him was the top of the USA order, featuring none other than Mookie Betts and Mike Trout.
But first up was Trea Turner, the nine-hole hitter. Turner was quickly down 0-2 against Bracho, but he hardly let that phase him. On the third pitch he saw, Turner launched a grand slam to left field and erased the deficit to put the team up, 9-7, in the eighth inning.
USA’s dugout erupted as players leaped over the dugout railing and practically flew to the plate to receive Turner. As his teammates waited in a half-circle at home plate, Turner saluted them before jumping up and down and celebrating with his squad. USA hitting coach Ken Griffey Jr. embraced Turner in a hug as the crowd roared behind them.
USA never looked back after Turner’s majestic home run, knocking Venezuela out of the World Baseball Classic with a 9-7 win on Saturday night at loanDepot Park. Team USA will play Cuba in the WBC semifinals on Sunday night in Miami.
Trea Turner crushes a go-ahead grand slam that gives the USA a 9-7 lead in the eighth inning
Turner’s home run was the third USA grand slam in WBC history, as he joined Jason Varitek (2006) and David Wright (2013). USA’s offense overcame right-hander Daniel Bard’s shaky fifth-inning relief outing and questionable in-game strategy by manager Mark DeRosa, both of which led to a four-run rally by Venezuela that, at the time, put USA in a one-run deficit.
Prior to that game-altering fifth inning, USA was for the most part in complete control of the game.
USA had knocked Venezuela lefthander Martín Pérez out of his start after just five batters. Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Kyle Tucker ripped five consecutive hits off Pérez to open the top of the first inning. Before many fans had even found their seats, USA put up a 3-0 lead over Pérez and Venezuela, prompting manager Omar López to pull the southpaw from his 16-pitch outing.
Make no mistake, Saturday night’s quarterfinal was an away game for team USA. Venezuela received the loudest ovations during pregame player introductions as yellow, blue and red flags infiltrated loanDepot Park. Despite the pregame hysteria, the majority of the stadium was quieted as US hitters hustled around the bases to rally in that first inning. DeRosa, hours before first pitch, had acknowledged that the away-game atmosphere may bode well for his squad. Trout and Betts in particular were fired up by their early success against Pérez.
But the ballpark roared back to life just seven Lance Lynn pitches later when Luis Arráez crushed a two-run home run, cutting Venezuela’s deficit to 3-2 in the first inning. Venezuela’s immediate response to USA foreshadowed the tug-of-war battle between the squads.
In the end, it was Lynn who gave the gutsiest performance of the night, if only because it was obvious from the opening frame that the right-hander didn’t have his best stuff on Saturday. Lynn labored throughout his outing, taking ample time between pitches to gather himself on the grass off to the side of the mound.
Though he didn’t record a single clean inning, Lynn did a solid job of limiting the damage after Arráez’s first inning home run. When Lynn knew his 16th batter of the night, Eugenio Suarez, would be his last, he barreled down and struck Suarez out with a high heater to end the fourth inning. Lynn erupted with a howl and a fist bump before his teammates lined up to high-five him in the dugout.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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