In the first round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Team USA often found themselves playing from behind, always in search of a big hit, always needing a strong bullpen outing to keep the game close or preserve a tight lead. The knuckleballs weren't floating, they weren't bunching their hits the way a lineup like theirs can, they just weren't quite right, for lack of a better term. On Tuesday night in Miami, things finally started clicking for the US in their second round debut against Puerto Rico, a 7-1 win that puts the United States just one win away from a berth in the WBC semifinals.
This story starts with Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez was held out of the first round of the tournament with the expectation that he'd pitch the second round opener that almost never came for the Americans. Gonzalez rewarded that faith hugely last night, though, shutting down Puerto Rico for five sparkling innings, scattering three hits, and striking out five without a walk. Puerto Rico's lineup didn't stand a chance against Gonzalez. Their three hits all came in different innings and only one base runner even reached third while Gonzalez was on the mound.
By the time Jeremy Affeldt took the mound in relief of Gonzalez, the US had only built a 3-0 lead. That might seem fine for a regular season game when the starter is cruising, but the nature of the WBC meant that Joe Torre was going to have to try to hold the slim lead with four or five different relievers unless the US could push some more runs across the board. That finally happened in the eighth inning, when a bases-loaded David Wright double turned a still-narrow 4-1 US lead into the padded 7-1 final score. Wright drove in two of the US's first four runs, as well, giving him five RBIs for the night and a ridiculous 10 in four WBC games. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Braun both helped set the table for Wright with two hits and two runs scored apiece.
With the win, Team USA will face off with the Dominican Republic on Thursday night in what will be (at least in the Western Hemisphere) the marquee matchup of the tournament thus far. The winner of that game will join Japan and Netherlands in the semifinals. Puerto Rico, meanwhile, will play Italy Wednesday night at 7 PM ET in an elimination game, with the winner earning the right to play the loser of the US/DR game for the second semifinals berth.