MIAMI — Gio Gonzalez gave Team USA its best start yet, and David Wright provided a big finish.
Gonzalez pitched five scoreless innings and the Americans beat Puerto Rico 7-1 in the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday night.
Wright drove in five runs, the last three with a bases-loaded double in the eighth. That prompted chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” from the crowd of 32,872.
“Obviously the adrenalin gets pumping for this tournament,” Wright said. “You wear that uniform, you want to go out there and represent your country. Hitting in this lineup is ridiculous. You have some of the best hitters in the game, and it creates some matchup problems.”
The United States fell behind in all three games in the opening round, but led from the first inning against Puerto Rico.
The Americans will play Thursday night against the Dominican Republic, which remained unbeaten in the WBC by rallying past Italy 5-4 on Tuesday.
“It’s a marquee matchup,” U.S. manager Joe Torre said. “They haven’t lost. They’ve got some guys having some fun. They have a lot of confidence. But I feel good about my team.”
Puerto Rico plays Italy in an elimination game today.
“If you go inside our clubhouse, everybody is up,” manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “We lost today. Turn the page. We concentrate on Wednesday.”
Gonzalez, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, struck out five for the hometown team and departed with a 3-0 lead. He said U.S. pitching coach Greg Maddux helped him keep from getting distracted by the importance of the game and the big crowd.
“He said to think about fishing or something and take your mind off it,” Gonzalez said. “Tune it out and think of something real simple. When you get some of the greats of baseball to help you out with your composure and keep your tunnel vision, that’s the best you can do.”
Gonzalez lowered the ERA of the U.S. rotation to 4.00.
“Gio set the tone early, coming out and absolutely getting us in the dugout quick,” Wright said. “We didn’t have to play too long on defense, and we kept putting runners on base. It was building that momentum, and Gio started it.”
Gonzalez said he worked well with catcher Joe Mauer and shook him off only once.
“He was tough,” Mauer said. “Early on he was trying to find his curveball. After the third inning he pretty much had everything going.”
Five U.S. relievers combined to allow one run over the final four innings.
Wright had an RBI groundout in the third and a run-scoring single in the fifth. He’s 7 for 16 (.438) with 10 RBIs in four games.
“It makes my job a lot easier when I’m hitting behind Ryan Braun and Joe Mauer,” Wright said. “It seems like every at-bat there were runners in scoring position.”
Mauer’s two-out RBI double scored Braun in the opening inning. The Americans added a run in the third on singles by Brandon Phillips and Braun and Wright’s groundout.
Adam Jones had a two-run single in the seventh.
Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton earned a big cheer from the Miami crowd when he made a running catch at the warning track to rob Martin Maldonado of a two-out, two-RBI hit in the fourth inning. Stanton also ended an 0-for-7 slump when he singled twice and walked.
“It’s one of those things where you don’t realize it has only been two games,” Stanton said. “You can say I was pressing a little bit, but it was seven at-bats and I had good at-bats and put good swings on the ball before. So it wasn’t a big deal. But it’s nice to get them for sure.”
Braun and Mauer each reached base four times.
Puerto Rico starter Mario Santiago allowed three runs in 4.1 innings. Angel Pagan’s drove in Puerto Rico’s run in the eighth.
Dominican Republic 5, Italy 4: Robinson Cano pumped his fist. Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez danced together near home plate. Fernando Rodney pointed to the sky after the final out.
Nelson Cruz’s two-out, RBI single broke a seventh-inning tie, and the Dominicans overcame an early four-run deficit.
Cano had three hits, including his second home run in the WBC. He led a comeback that had his teammates laughing and celebrating every hit in front of their dugout.
“That’s something you never see in the big leagues,” Cano said. “Here we get a chance to come out and give high-fives to the guys. We can jump around. Nobody sees you trying to show somebody up. It’s more about the chemistry on the team. We’re all excited to be here, and we’ve all got a mission to win.”
Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza said his team noted the Dominicans’ demeanor.
“Some enhanced theatrics,” Piazza said. “It’s not what we’re used to, but hey, you have to go to with it and have fun. It’s unorthodox for me. Obviously in a 162-game season you’re not going to be seeing that, so you have to just let it roll off your back.”
Cano’s homer off the upper-deck facade in right field made the score 2-all in the sixth. Reyes also homered, and celebrated with Ramirez after crossing the plate.
“This team has a lot of emotion,” manager Tony Pena said. “They kept talking in the dugout — ‘We’re going to come back and win the game.'”
Chris Colabello hit a three-run homer, his second, to give Italy a 4-0 lead in the first inning.
The Dominicans trailed 4-2 in the seventh, when they loaded the bases with one out on consecutive singles by Reyes, Erick Aybar and Cano off Pat Venditte (0-1).
Edwin Encarnacion walked to force in a run, and Ramirez tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
Cruz followed with a broken-bat, two-out single to give the Dominicans their first lead. Cruz has six RBIs in four games, while Cano hiked his average to .632 (12-for-19) with six RBIs.
“My interest is to win,” Cano said. “We’re having a really good time.”
The New York Yankees second baseman was annoyed in the seventh when Italy’s Nick Punto slid hard into second base on an inning-ending forceout.
“I was upset,” Cano said. “I don’t care if you slide on a double play, but when it’s a forceout, the last thing you want to do is get hurt.”
The crowd of 14,482 was festive for the opening game in Miami, with horn-honking and chanting by Dominican fans who created a steady din. The retractable roof, closed for all but eight Marlins games last year, was open on an 80-degree afternoon.
Pedro Strop (2-0) threw a scoreless seventh. Rodney, who has yet to allow a hit in four appearances, reached 98 mph on the radar gun when he pitched a hitless ninth for his third save.
Five relievers limited Italy to one hit and no runs over the final 4 2-3 innings.
“You’re facing some hard throwers in that bullpen,” Colabello said. “They’re got pretty good stuff.”
Early wildness plagued Dominican starter Edinson Volquez, who threw only one of his first 13 pitches for a strike as he walked the bases loaded. Alex Liddi’s sacrifice fly made it 1-0, and Colabello followed with a homer.
“Four runs was one too few,” Colabello said. “I don’t think any lead is comfortable, especially in this format.”
Volquez allowed four runs in 4.1innings.
“Our pitching after the first inning did a great job,” Pena said.
Tiago Da Silva went 5.1 innings for Italy and allowed two runs, both on homers. The Italians play in a losers’-bracket game today.
“They’re obviously an All-Star caliber team,” Piazza said. “Obviously we are disappointed. We have to just try and inch back tomorrow and hopefully pick up a ‘W’ and keep going.”