Intent to 'send a message,' U.S. rallies its way into WBC semis

March 19, 2023, 2:09 AM

MIAMI -- Trea Turner didn't jog his way to first base. He hopped. Pranced. Flexed. Roared. With his team trailing by two in the eighth inning of its World Baseball Classic quarterfinal game against Venezuela, the Philadelphia Phillies' shortstop and Team USA catalyst unleashed a prodigious grand slam, providing the two-run lead that proved to be the definitive blow in an emotional, back-and-forth 9-7 victory at LoanDepot Park on Saturday night.

Turner, a World Series champion with the Washington Nationals in 2019, identified it as the biggest hit of his baseball career.

Team USA's manager, Mark DeRosa, took it a step further.

"Being honest with you, it's one of the greatest games I've ever been a part of," said DeRosa, whose team will play Cuba in Sunday's semifinals. "Someone had to win; someone had to lose."

DeRosa spent a couple of months in the Venezuelan winter league in 1999 and was struck by the atmosphere. It stuck with him as he navigated through a 16-year major league career as an infielder, and he drew on it as his team prepared to face a talented Venezuelan team in the quarterfinals. He remembered riding the bus to Magallanes to face Caracas' fierce rival and thought Sunday's game would bring similar intensity. He wanted his players to match it.

"That's why I wanted to have a meeting before we went out there," DeRosa said. "I knew we were going to be in a hostile environment. Even though we're in the U.S., I knew it was going to be kind of like a road game for us. I just wanted our guys, when we got rolling, to come out of the dugout and kind of send a message that we were going to match their energy."

DeRosa's vision became reality immediately. The United States began the game with five consecutive hits against Texas Rangers left-hander Martin Perez, ratcheting up the intensity with each one. Team USA built an early three-run lead then answered every time it needed to.

After Venezuela cut the deficit to one with a two-run home run by Luis Arraez in the bottom of the first -- his first of two homers -- the U.S. tacked on a couple of insurance runs with a sacrifice fly by Mookie Betts in the fourth and a solo shot by Kyle Tucker in the fifth.

And shortly after Venezuela captured its first lead with a four-run bottom of the fifth -- the product of a disastrous performance by Daniel Bard, who plunked Jose Altuve in the right hand, forcing his exit, and uncorked two wild pitches -- the U.S. came back for good.

Team USA loaded the bases with none out in the top of the eighth against left-hander Jose Quijada, who surrendered a walk to Tim Anderson, a single to pinch hitter  Pete Alonso and a hit by pitch to J.T. Realmuto. Turner, the $300 million shortstop who bats ninth in this lineup, was up next, prompting Venezuela manager Omar Lopez to turn to right-hander Silvino Bracho.

"I didn't know much about the pitcher throwing, so for me, it was just try not to do too much," Turner said. "I've got Mookie and  [Mike] Trout behind me. The lineup's crazy. It's just keep the line moving and make good decisions and just react."

Turner reacted to an 0-2 changeup, a pitch that spilled right out over the heart of the plate. He sent it 407 feet out to left field, delivering the blast that eliminated a Venezuela team that was every bit as talented.

"It's frustrating," Lopez said in Spanish. "It's frustrating when a team is fighting from beginning to end and any little thing that happens in the game, because it's baseball, makes you lose a game. Unfortunately, that's what it's like. And we have to embrace it. We have to, like men, pick our heads up. It's not easy."

Turner became the third U.S. player to hit a grand slam in the World Baseball Classic, joining David Wright and Jason Varitek. It went down as the first go-ahead slam in the sixth inning or later in tournament history. Before it landed, most of his teammates had already spilled out of the dugout in celebration. A sellout crowd followed suit, marking the first time all night that the U.S. cheers had drowned out those for Venezuela.

In the ninth, as Ryan Pressly navigated through a save, "USA" chants filled the air.

"This is pretty much postseason atmosphere, and we're getting it right in the middle of spring training," Pressly said. "It's a great team over there, and it almost makes me kind of want to go play in winter ball a little bit and see how rowdy these fans get. It looks really fun, and I was glad to be a part of it."