15U: U.S. wins 10-inning thriller over Mexico, 10-9
Back-and-forth game ends with pinch-hit, two-run, walk-off single from Armstrong
MAZATLAN, Mexico - An estimated crowd of well over 10,000 rabid fans watched an instant classic Saturday night at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal, as the USA Baseball 15U National Team closed out second round play at the WBSC 'AA' 15U World Cup with a come-from-behind, extra-inning, walk-off victory over Mexico, 10-9. With the win, the U.S. knocked the host country out of medal contention and improved to 9-0 for the tournament as it readies for Sunday's gold medal game against Cuba.
"It was an emotional win," said manager Chan Brown. "I'm proud of the guys. They hung in there all night. We would get down and then we would fight back and score a run. I can't say enough about the team building and bonding that is going on right now."
In a game that featured seven runs in the first seven innings combined and then seven in the 10th alone, the excitement never seemed to go away as the home crowd stood on their feet and yelled, shook noise makers and clapped their hands for well over four hours for two teams that absolutely gave it their all.
"We knew coming into the game that it would be tough because of their crowd and because Mexico had some momentum coming into the game," said Brown. "There were times we tried to move our guys on defense and they couldn't even hear us. But that's what it's all about. Tonight was a great environment to help our players grow up."
Up 5-2 entering the eighth inning, the U.S. seemed on pace to cruise to victory after some early troubles against the talented Mexico squad. However, the home team gathered energy from the crowd and broke free on offense to plate four runs in the frame to take its first lead since the first inning. The big play came from Jaime Garza, as he stroked a three-RBI double down the LF line to tie the game at six.
Down one in the bottom of the ninth, the U.S. was just two outs away from having to play Mexico again Sunday for the gold medal. Team USA wouldn't give up though as Gil's third sacrifice fly of the night scored Mark Vientos (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) and tied the game at seven, forcing it to extra innings.
Over 80 games have been played in the tournament thus far and there have only been two extra-inning contests. The U.S. has played in both of them and they have occurred in back-to-back days as the red, white and blue bested Chinese Taipei in walk-off fashion, 5-4, in 10 innings Friday.
Saturday it didn't look as promising, as Mexico took advantage of U.S. free passes to go along with some timely hitting to run out to a 9-6 lead going to the bottom half of the 10th. An RBI single and two RBI walks did the damage as the U.S. used three different pitchers in the inning. Finally, LHP Doug Nikhazy (Ocoee, Fla.) entered with two outs and the bases loaded and induced a fly out to get out of the jam.
In the bottom half of the 10th, the U.S. slowly chipped away at the lead. Royce Lewis (Aliso Viejo, Calif.) opened the scoring as he hit into a fielder's choice that scored Austin Martin (Orange Park, Fla.) and placed runners at first and second base. A couple of plays later with the bases juiced and one out, Gil hit into a fielder's choice to score Brice Turang (Corona, Calif.) and trim the lead to 9-8, but also put two outs up on the board.
With everyone in the building on their feet as Mexico was one out away from playing in the gold medal game, U.S. manager Chan Brown (Lilburn, Ga.) brought in pinch hitter Kristofer Armstrong (Jupiter Fla.) to try and keep the game going. On a 2-2 count with an atmosphere that can only be described as electric, the switch hitter poked a ball through the middle that scored Lewis first and then Gil to give Team USA the thrilling 10-9 win in 10 innings.
"I came to the plate thinking base hit up the middle to try and win the game," said Armstrong. "I honestly was looking for a curveball on the 2-2 count, but I was ready for the fastball if he threw it, and he did, so I just whipped my bat out there and got it up the middle. When I hit it, it was crazy. I knew the first run would be in for sure, but I wasn't sure if the other run could get in. When I saw everyone running towards me it was a great feeling."
"This team was built through trials on having a lot of guys that can play dual positions," said Brown. "Kris has ice going through his veins and you can see that on the mound so we thought he would be a perfect fit for that situation."
Team USA used six pitchers to get through Mexico, as the staff struggled with walks for the first real time in the tournament as they walked 10 as opposed to giving up just seven hits. Nikhazy (1-0) picked up the win after recording the final out in the top of the 10th. LHP Hugh Fisher earned the start and put in a noble effort as he gave up two runs on five hits and three walks in five innings of work. He left with his squad up 3-2, but ultimately earned the no-decision.
At the plate, Lewis had three RBI and a pair of hits, Turang scored three runs, Gil had four RBI including the three sac flies and Vientos registerd a pair hits and two runs scored.
The win improved the U.S. to 9-0 and allowed it to keep the momentum it has gained throughout the tournament. Team USA will play for a gold medal in its first year in the 15U World Cup at 6 p.m. MT (9 p.m. ET) Fans can follow the gold medal match through live stats (links on USABaseball.com), Twitter (@USABaseball15U) or a live video stream courtesy of internetv.tv.
"We have to play Team USA baseball to win gold," said Gil. "We have been playing great so far and competing hard. If Bullock (Justin) pitches well and we back him I think we'll have a great chance to win."
"That's why we came here and that's our goal," said Brown. "We still have to play nine innings of baseball and we need to clean some stuff up that we didn't do well against Mexico. Tomorrow is another challenge and we are ready to take it head on with one heartbeat."
A high-scoring game in the later innings, the game started out pretty mild with no one scoring more than one run in a frame.
Mexico struck first in the game as a Carlos Ramirez RBI single to left center scored Isaac Paredes after he doubled down the left field line with two outs.
The U.S. answered in the third as Lewis rocked a monster two-RBI triple to left center field that plated both Turang and Martin after the former hit a fielder's choice and the latter knocked a base hit.
Raymond Gil's first sac fly of the game upped the U.S. lead to 3-1 in the fifth inning as he scored Turang from third after he originally reached base on an error to open the inning.
The host nation trimmed Team USA's lead to 3-2 in the top of the sixth as Carlos Soto was rewarded for a lead-off triple by tagging up on a Rodrigo Uicab sac fly.
Team USA answered Mexico's run in the bottom half of the sixth inning as the U.S. perfectly capitalized on a hit-and-run to secure runners at the corners with one out. Relief pitcher Ryan Vilade (Frisco, Texas) opened the frame with a single to right center before Martin put his bat out over the plate and popped a bloop single over the head of the first baseman to get Vilade to third. Turang then came to the plate and did his job with a groundout to the right side that easily scored Vilade and moved the score to 4-2.
In the seventh inning, Gil tallied his second sac fly of the game to make the score 5-2 after Vientos singled, stole second and reached third on a ground out.
An inning later, Mexico began its comeback that ultimately led to the heroics in the 10th frame.