Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
PHOENIX – When Mexico beat the United States during the 2006 World Baseball Classic, it was a little bittersweet because the team was headed home no matter what.
Doing it again with so much at stake was simply sweet for the Mexicans.
Adrian Gonzalez homered and drove in three runs, seven pitchers handcuffed United States hitters all night, and Mexico rebounded from a disappointing opening loss with a decisive 5-2 win over the Americans in Pool D of the World Baseball Classic on Friday.
“The last one, we knew we were out, and that put us in a position where we had nothing to lose,” Gonzalez said. “This one, we’re still in it, and we had to win. We went out and played as close to a perfect game as you can play in baseball.”
Coming off a last-inning loss to Italy, Mexico (1-1) needed a win or its tournament was essentially over.
Mexico got off to a great start, tagging U.S. starter R.A. Dickey for four runs in the first three innings, including a two-run homer by Gonzalez in the third.
Yovani Gallardo started Mexico’s domination of U.S. hitters with 3 1/3 solid innings, and Luis Cruz had two RBIs to give a boisterous, pro-Mexico crowd of 44,256 plenty to cheer about at Chase Field.
Mexico will send out right-hander Marco Estrada against Canada today with a chance to move on to the second round of the WBC for the third consecutive tournament, depending on how the rest of the pool plays out.
“We knew we had to win,” Mexico manager Rick Renteria said. “I don’t know if you’d consider it an upset or not, but we’re relishing in the victory.”
Team USA (0-1) never recovered after Dickey’s early struggles, its stacked lineup unable to get much of anything going against Mexico’s string of pitchers.
The Americans didn’t have an extra-base hit until the seventh inning and had six singles among their eight hits. They also stranded eight runners, forcing them into a must-win situation against surprising Italy on Saturday.
Ryan Vogelsong will pitch against the Italians, who opened the WBC with two wins.
“You want to win the game, and certainly we were ready to go out there today,” U.S. manager Joe Torre said. “But they did a better job at what they were doing than what we were doing.”
The U.S. team has been so-so thus far in the WBC, failing to get past the round-robin stage in 2006 and losing in the semifinals in 2009, helping to clear the way for Japan to win the first two titles.
Team USA is stocked for a good run in this year’s tournament, trotting out a lineup that includes three former league MVPs – Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer and Jimmy Rollins – along with nine other players who have been major league All-Stars.
Hoping to get the tournament off to a good start, Torre handed the ball to Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and the first knuckleballer to win the prize.
While many of the big-name pitchers back out of playing in the WBC, Dickey was an enthusiastic participant, in part because he was on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that earned a disappointing bronze.
His opening game in the WBC didn’t go too well.
Mexico jumped on the right-hander’s knuckleball right off, starting with Eduardo Arredondo’s reach-and-slap single to open the game. He came around to score on Cruz’s sacrifice fly after a double by Ramiro Pena. Gonzalez made it 2-0 with a groundout to second, revving up the crowd.
Gonzalez brought fans to their feet in the third inning with a two-run homer to the deepest part of the park, a towering shot above the pool deck in right-center that was upheld by a video review.
Dickey was three pitches short of the WBC minimum 65 after four innings and didn’t come back out. He allowed four runs and six hits.
“I wasn’t as sharp,” Dickey said. “I felt pretty good in the `pen and threw some really good ones when I was out there, but consistently it was not as good as I hope for.”
Mexico was in need of a lift after a disappointing opening game against Italy.
Leading 5-4 after eight innings, the Mexicans lost 6-5 after Sergio Romo, closer for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, gave up a two-run double to Anthony Rizzo. Mexico had the bases loaded in the bottom half against Jason Grilli, but Jorge Cantu grounded out to end the game.
For their critical second game, Mexico turned to Gallardo, the Milwaukee Brewers ace who won 16 games last season.
Unlike Dickey, he was sharp early, facing the minimum through three innings after Mauer singled in the second inning and was quickly erased on a double play.
Gallardo was done after a leadoff single by Rollins in the fourth inning and a one-out walk to Braun. David Wright followed with a run-scoring single to right off Luis Mendoza to cut Mexico’s lead to 4-1, but Eric Hosmer grounded out on a comebacker with runners at the corners to end the inning.
Gallardo allowed a run on two hits and struck out four.
“He did a fantastic job,” Renteria said. “He commanded the zone seemingly all night. Obviously did a very efficient job locating.”
Cruz put Mexico up 5-1 with a sacrifice fly off Glen Perkins in the fifth after Arredondo’s third hit led off the inning.
Team USA had two on in the fifth and sixth innings and failed to get a run in, and Rollins was stranded at second in the seventh after a two-out double, their first extra-base hit of the night.
The U.S. finally came through in the eighth, when Hosmer blooped a single to center off Fernando Salas to score Braun and cut Mexico’s lead to 5-2.
Romo bounced back from his rough outing against Italy, closing out Mexico’s statement win with a perfect ninth that set off a huge roar inside Chase Field and sent the Mexican players charging off the bench.
“Those guys have the confidence in me and it hasn’t ever wavered,” a subdued Romo said. “I showed up from the get-go, and it’s some respect that I’d never really had before. There’s no chance I was going to let anybody down.”