PHOENIX -- A few feet here and a few more there and Giancarlo Stanton would have connected on a pair of home runs that might have changed the outcome for Team USA on Friday. Instead, both balls were caught on the warning track and Mexico handed the U.S. a 5-2 wake-up call in the World Baseball Classic.
Stanton went 0 for 3 with a walk in his WBC debut.
But two of his outs just missed going for homers. Batting seventh (hmmm) on manager Joe Torre's lineup card, Stanton's first near-miss occurred in the sixth inning when, with two on and two outs, he drove the ball to the warning track in center at Chase Field, where it was caught for the third out. His second close call came in the eighth when, with two outs and a man aboard, he drove one to deep right that was also hauled in on the track.
The setback put Team USA in an immediate bind. In fact, the U.S. could be eliminated from the tournament as early as Saturday if Mexico (1-1) knocks off Canada (0-1) and surprising Italy (2-0) defeats them in the nightcap. If that happens, Sunday's U.S./Canada tilt will feel like the old consolation games in the NCAA tournament.
If not for Marlins closer Steve Cishek, the predicament for Team USA would even be worse than it is already. Run differential is used in the tie-breaking formula to determine which teams advance, and with Mexico leading 5-1 in the eighth, Torre brought in Cishek with precious runners at second and third and one out.
"We're all very aware of it," Cishek said of the tie-breaking formula, which could become necessary if three teams in the round-robin event finish with identical records -- a real possibility. Two teams from Pool D in Arizona will advance to the second round in Miami next week.
After intentionally walking pinch-hitter Efren Navarro to load the bases, Cishek retired another left-handed pinch-hitter, Walter Ibarra, on a shallow fly ball to left and ended the threat by getting ex-Marlins teammate Gil Velazquez on an easy bouncer to second. (Former Marlins, by the way, are everywhere in the WBC. Jorge Cantu collected a pair of hits for Mexico in the win.)
"Every run that crosses that plate matters in this tournament," Cishek said. "So, obviously, putting up a zero right there was key. That was my job and my objective."
Cishek said he was "excited and fired up to be out there." The crowd, which seemed to be split about equally between Mexican and U.S. fans, totaled 44,256.
"The atmosphere was electric in here, so I was pretty fired up," said Cishek, who threw only eight pitches, four of which were necessary to issue the intentional free pass. "It was a pretty cool atmosphere. It was definitely different. It was non-stop energy throughout the game. Unfortunately, it didn't work out for us."