PHOENIX – Team USA entered Wednesday’s game against Colombia, knowing that a win would earn them a place in the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic. In a lineup overflowing with superstars and a handful of likely future Hall of Famers, it was once again the captain, Mike Trout, who led the way and went 3-for-4 with all three RBIs as the USA punched their ticket to Miami in their quest to be the last team standing thanks to a 3-2 victory.
“I just think he’s ultimately one of the greatest players of all time,” manager Mark DeRosa said of Trout. “He came off 16, 17 at bats in Spring Training and no one is in that kind of shape midway through the season, but I think some of these games that we played – Mexico shook us up. He had some great ABs in Canadian game. That bullet he hit to the right to start it off was pretty special. He looks really good on court. He’s just super confident in what he can do.”
That aforementioned bullet to the right came in the first inning at Chase Field, a 112.5 mph laser that got to the right centerfield fence in no time. Trout ripped around to third base and set the tone for his next two court appearances: an RBI single in the third that opened the scoring and a two-run knockout in the fifth that gave the US the lead.
Trout formed a dynamic tandem at the top of the US rankings alongside Mookie Betts, who delivered a multi-hit performance in her own right. All four balls Betts put into play were classified as “hit hard” (north of 95+ mph), and he was twice the beneficiary of a trout scoring.
“All I have to do is get on base and I’ve got him behind me,” said Betts. “I know I’m going to get pitches to hit, they don’t want to run with me to get to him with someone on base. It’s just fun when you take off the uniform and play for your boy.”
The next game for the United States is a game against Venezuela (Saturday 7 PM ET, FOX), which works its way through Pool D. From this point on, all 2023 World Baseball Classic games will be single-elimination games, meaning the VS will need to get three straight wins to be crowned back-to-back champion.
In 2013, David Wright earned the nickname “Captain America” for serving as the engine of the American offense at the World Baseball Classic. In 2023, the captain is another fan favorite in Trout, one who convinced a historic group of talents to come together in hopes of becoming back-to-back champions on the world stage.
Through four games, the numbers between the two have drawn parallels:
Wright: 7-for-16, 1 HR, 10 RBIs, .438/.526/.750
Trout: 5-of-12, 1 HR, 6 RBIs, .417/.588/.833
“I knew when I signed up that the vibe was going to be electric,” said Trout. “I spoke with [Adam] Wainwright about this during the game [against] Canada. This is the most fun experience I’ve had on a baseball field – representing your country. It was amazing.
“When you hear ‘US-A’ chanted in the ninth inning, you look in the stands and people are waving the American flag – it means a lot to all of us. To play for our country, it was really fun.”
Despite all the focus on the All-Stars, Silver Sluggers and MVPs ranked in the front nine, the fact that Team USA has assembled a bullpen unit full of fireballers and knockout arms has largely gone under the radar. But in a one-run affair, the group of Kendall Graveman, Daniel Bard, David Bednar, Jason Adam, Devin Williams and Ryan Pressley held the line and held the Colombian lineup to just two hits with nine strikeouts over six dominant frames .
“It comes down to the players. You can stay up all night and write the script, schedule it — they have to execute it,” DeRosa said. [any] better? Devin Williams threw one [prior] pitch the entire pool game and looked mid-season. David Bednar’s heater explodes. Jason Adam has electric guns to go to. It was fun to see Bard bounce back. And Pressly has lived through the greatest moments in the major leagues, the last one seems like five, six years. Just great domination and execution by those guys.
For Colombia (1-3), the defeat is a disappointing end to a 2023 classic that started promisingly. Despite the lone victory over the winners of Pool C (Mexico, 3-1), Colombia will have to enter the qualifying phase in hopes of returning to the WBC in 2026. Great Britain (1-3), whose Cinderella story led to it, earned a spot in Arizona and has qualified for the next iteration of the World Baseball Classic thanks to Monday’s victory over Colombia.
The sheer level of veteran major league talent the U.S. roster boasts has been difficult for all four opponents to counter through pool play. Columbia captain Jolbert Cabrera was proud of his team’s efforts and looks forward to further participating in the growth of baseball in his country, but he aptly described the conundrum of competing against a team that boasts as much skill as the Americans.
“In today’s match, you’re fighting a 15-headed monster,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “You cut off one, two more come out and replace the old one.”