PHOENIX — Steve Cishek said it would have been “devastating.”
Brandon Phillips said it would have been “embarrassing.”
Had the United States — birthplace of baseball — been ousted in the first round of the World Baseball Classic while lesser-lights such as Italy continued on, it would have been a red-faced moment for the red, white and blue.
And down to their last six outs Sunday, the possibility of a humbling early exit from the WBC loomed large for Team USA, which trailed Canada 3-2 entering the eighth.
“They had us on the ropes,” said Phillips, Team USA’s second baseman.
Did they ever.
But the United States survived by scoring three runs in the eighth before blowing it open in the ninth with four more, the last three of those coming on Eric Hosmer’s bases-clearing double off John Axford for a 9-4 victory.
Next stop for Team USA: Miami, where it will meet up with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and those pesky Italians in the WBC’s second round.
Phillips, who made a diving stop on a ground ball to save a crucial run from scoring in Canada’s eighth, said it was a much better outcome than having to head back to Goodyear, Ariz., to rejoin the Cincinnati Reds in spring training.
“I wasn’t ready to go back to Goodyear,” Phillips said. “There ain’t nothing in Goodyear. I said I’d rather go to Miami. We just broke out, and it was a beautiful thing.”
The United States had been cold at the plate in Arizona before coming alive when it absolutely had to get it going. By the time the eighth rolled around the United States had gone just 5 for 33 with runners in scoring position for the tournament.
Making matters even worse for hitters Sunday were the shadows splashed across the diamond, as the roof was open at Chase Field. Hitters couldn’t hit what they couldn’t see, and the United States struggled offensively early.
The shadows were gone by the eighth, though, and the United States took off.
Joe Mauer singled to start the inning, followed by a walk to David Wright. After Ben Zobrist fouled out trying to bunt, Adam Jones put the Americans ahead when he laced a double into the gap in left-center, driving in two runs. Shane Victorino’s bloop single scored another run to make it 5-4.
But the Canadians, who demonstrated their fight in Saturday’s wild brawl with Mexico, refused to quit. They trimmed the lead to 5-4 in the eighth and threatened to do more when they put runners at second and third with two outs.
That’s when U.S. manager Joe Torre turned to Cishek, the closer for the Marlins. Cishek had worked his way out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam Friday against Mexico. On Sunday, Cishek purposely loaded the bases with an intentional walk before snuffing out the rally by getting pinch-hitter Tim Smith on a bouncer to second to end the inning.
The normally reserved Cishek pumped his fist as the crowd roared its approval.
“Getting out of a key situation like that, I had a lot of emotion built up and it just came out of me,” Cishek said. “I’m usually a pretty quiet guy. Probably the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. It was incredible.”
Team USA put it away in the ninth, as Hosmer — first baseman for the Kansas City Royals and a former first-round pick out of Plantation American Heritage High, put up the insurance runs with his bases-loaded double.
“Well, it’s not a relief because we have been teasing ourselves,” Torre said of the quiet U.S. lineup that took so long to produce. “We have had too many opportunities with too many good people up at the plate. We really don’t have a soft spot in that lineup. So I guess we had to get behind to all of a sudden think about it.”
Hialeah’s Gio Gonzalez will take the mound for Team USA at Marlins Park on Tuesday when it continues play in the WBC.
The United States is still alive and kicking.