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Schmuck: Orioles share in joy of Adam Jones' walk-off winner for Team USA

SARASOTA, FLA. — Everybody in Baltimore knows that Adam Jones is the man. Now the rest of the baseball world knows it, too.

Jones wasted no time parlaying the pride that goes with starring on Team USA in the World Baseball Classic into a heroic offensive performance Friday night in a game that could easily have gone in a very different direction.

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Nobody in the Orioles clubhouse was surprised when Jones delivered his second run-scoring hit of the game in a 10-inning walk-off victory over Colombia. His Orioles teammates followed the USA's WBC opener in any way they could — on television, of course, but also on Buck Showalter's iPad, Brad Brach's phone and whatever device was handy to the players on the team bus back from Fort Myers after Friday night's exhibition loss to the Boston Red Sox.

"I just had a feeling he was going to end it right there," Brach said. "I saw the highlight of his double earlier where he scored the run and he was yelling in the dugout and stuff like that. He was fired up, so I was glad to see he was able to do that."

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It isn't easy to get into an offensive groove this early in spring training, which might explain why that game was hitless on both sides into the fifth inning and Jones had two of only six hits for Team USA. But everyone in camp has been marveling for the past month at the terrific shape that Jones was in when he showed up for spring training and the way he has been swinging the bat from the get-go.

Jones opened the Grapefruit League exhibition season two weeks ago with two doubles and a home run in his first six at-bats.

"This time of year, to come up in a clutch situation like that and be able to do a good job is tough, but it's something we expected from Adam," closer Zach Britton said. "It was fun to watch him do that. I know he was excited to play for the USA team, so you couldn't ask for anything better for him to come up in that situation and get a hit."

Jones clearly enjoyed every minute of it, even the ice-cold beverage cooler that was dumped ion him during his postgame television interview. His teammates — the ones who didn't join him on one of the WBC rosters — also enjoyed the opportunity to live vicariously through him as he experienced what might be a once-in-a-lifetime magic moment.

"That was awesome," reliever Donnie Hart said. "I kind of had a feeling that was going to happen, because he had three really good at-bats before that. We were kind of sitting there watching and I think I saw the pitcher grip a changeup in his glove right before he was going to throw that last pitch and I'm like, 'Man, I don't know if that's going to be the one.' And, sure enough, he squared it up and put it in the gap. It was cool to see him do it."

Jones had three great at-bats, starting with a long line drive to center field that could easily have been another hit and continuing with the RBI double that sparked Team USA's sixth-inning comeback.

"He's swinging the bat really well right now," Hart said. "He was swinging it well here for us before he left. It was exciting to see him get the job done and represent us at the same time. I couldn't have been any happier. I think I woke the neighbors up when I saw that ball land."

Showalter was in his car headed back from the Red Sox game, keeping track of the game on his iPad. If anything was revelatory about Jones' dramatic hit or Showalter bearing witness to it, it was probably that the old-school manager actually owns an iPad.

"It's just a great moment in his career," Showalter said. "It means a lot to him. He was adamant about how proud he was to get a chance to do this. Growing up, a chance to be picked as one of the best players in America and play center field for that team … it's special."

There could be no argument about that from anyone.

"It was nice," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "It was nice for him to come through — for him, for us and for the USA. It was nice for everybody."

The Orioles sent a lot of players to the WBC, but there were still more who would love to have gone. Britton also was invited to join Team USA this year, but he and his wife were brand-new parents when he got the invitation and decided it wasn't a good time for him to split his baseball focus with so much else on his plate. Turned out, his oblique injury made it all academic.

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Britton said the answer might be different if he's invited the next time or — even better — to play in the Olympics if Major League Baseball can find a practical way for its stars to take a break during the summer to take part.

"I'm hoping that they somehow figure it out to where guys can actually play in it," Britton said. "I think that is something that I definitely want to do."

In the meantime, Jones' teammates are going to be watching his every move and — when they get a chance — keep reminding critical fans and demanding baseball insiders to stop taking their on-field leader for granted. One of them employed a little sarcasm to make that point.

"Didn't anybody criticize his defense?"

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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