U.S. beats Venezuela in World Baseball Classic with a pair of late homers

The good people of San Diego just lost their NFL team. They’re not going to have much of a baseball team to cheer for this summer.

No better time for a hometown hero.

With the United States six outs from what would have been an ominous loss to Venezuela, Adam Jones hit the home run that tied the score and ignited a three-run eighth inning. After failing to score for the first six innings — five of them against Felix Hernandez — the U.S. scored four times in its final two at-bats for a 4-2 victory Wednesday in the World Baseball Classic.

A loss would have dredged up the ghosts of a tournament the U.S. never has won, what with the next two U.S. games against the teams that faced off for the last WBC title. So the Americans did not wait for the end of the game to exhale and celebrate.

That, after all, is what the Latin American teams do. It’s flipping bats and shooting arrows. It’s fun.

“I think everybody’s saying that Team USA lacks emotion, that we just go out there and play a bland type of baseball,” Jones said. “But we’re emotional guys. We just handle it a little bit different.”

Jones flapped his arms a couple of times rounding first base. He skipped to home plate and hopped beyond it, then did a leaping chest bump as he greeted his teammates in the dugout. “Big home run,” he said. “A lot of guys still weren’t at home plate. We were still in the dugout.”

Emotion, USA style.

That tied the score, in an ill-fated inning for reliever Hector Rondon of the Chicago Cubs. After the Jones home run, a Christian Yelich single and a fly ball, Eric Hosmer hit the game-winning home run, after which he pretended to rip apart his jersey, a la Superman.

“You’ve got to show some emotion,” Jones said. “Big spot, bottom of eighth, you’ve got six outs left in the game against a very tough bullpen they have in Venezuela. So, hey, we showed some emotion. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. I think that people kind of liked that Team USA showed some emotion.”

The crowd showed some too.

The appetite for the WBC is lukewarm in the United States, even in this famously patriotic city. On Tuesday, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico drew 16,637 to Petco Park. On Wednesday — with Team USA in the house — the game drew 16,635. The smallest crowd here for the last-place Padres last season: 19,013.

But, just as the American team perseveres without some of the country’s brightest stars, the American fans cranked their enthusiasm beyond their numbers.

The “U-S-A” chants echoed loudly, across all the empty seats, through that triumphant eighth inning. The Americans had one run to show for the first seven innings — unearned at that — but the decibel level picked up as the offense did.

“When you hear the ‘U-S-A’ chants, when you hear the crowd going crazy after a big swing or big play like those tonight,” Hosmer said, “it makes it really fun to be a part of this.”

Jones laughed as he recounted how he and his wife went out for lunch here in his hometown Tuesday, and how the city seemed unaware of the event.

“It’s not promoted on ‘SportsCenter,’” Jones said.

For the major league teams that hesitate to let their players participate in the WBC for fear of injury, the first inning was Exhibit Uh-Oh.

The Seattle Mariners have a 16-year postseason drought, the longest in baseball. Their face is Hernandez, a six-time All-Star so pivotal and popular that the team celebrates “Happy Felix Day” whenever it is his day to start.

The second batter he faced, Jones, squibbed a ball in front of home plate. Hernandez took an awkward step on his way to making the play, and the trainer rushed out. He had a cramp in his right leg, Venezuelan Manager Omar Vizquel said.

Hernandez stepped back atop the mound as if he were about to make a practice pitch, to make sure he could land properly, then dismissed the trainer and manager without making a pitch.

He held the U.S. scoreless for five innings. The U.S. held him off, then won.

“We’re at a point now where we’re pretty deep into this thing, and I think everyone’s on board with it and really enjoying it,” Hosmer said, “and wants us to bring it home.”

Japan 8, Israel 3: Yoshi-tomo Tsutsugo sparked a five-run sixth inning in Tokyo with a solo home run to lead Japan into the semifinals. With a 6-0 record through the first two rounds, two-time champion Japan advances from Pool E along with the Netherlands.

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