Drew Smyly led a strong effort from the pitching staff, and Adam Jones and Eric Hosmer hit eighth-inning home runs to lead Team USA to a 4-2 win over Venezuela in each team’s first game in Pool F play.
Trailing 2-1 through seven, Jones led off the eighth with a home run to left-center field off Hector Rondon to tie the game. Christian Yelich followed with a single, and Hosmer’s two-run blast to right gave the Americans its first lead, one it would not relinquish.
The US starting staff has not allowed an earned run all tournament, and Smyly continued that dominance against a tough Venezuelan lineup. He allowed just an unearned run on three hits in 4 2/3 innings and struck out eight, including the last six batters he faced.
Felix Hernandez, who was hammered in his Round 1 start against Puerto Rico, returned to form Wednesday night. He had to work out of a bases-loaded jam in the third but was otherwise sharp, striking out three and walking none in five scoreless innings.
Rougned Odor homered for Venezuela, but he also committed two errors at third base, a new position, including one that helped Team USA finally get on the board in the seventh.
After Luke Gregerson walked Miguel Cabrera on four pitches with one out in the ninth, he started Victor Martinez off with two balls before coaxing a 5-6-3 game-ending double play into the teeth of the defensive shift.
Both starters were sharp through two innings before Venezuela struck first in the third. Carlos Gonzalez led off the inning with a single, and Robinson Chirinos laid down a great bunt to move him up a base. Chirinos reached base himself when Smyly’s throw to first sailed into right field, allowing both runners to move into scoring position. Ender Inciarte’s sacrifice fly brought home Gonzalez, but there would be no further damage.
Team USA squandered an opportunity to respond immediately. After Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Bregman and Ian Kinsler his consecutive singles to load the bases with one out, Hernandez induced a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Jones to end the threat.
Venezuela’s Martin Prado ended the sixth with a groundout to Bregman. It was reported after the game that he injured his hamstring and could miss the team’s final two games in the pool.
In the home half of the inning, the Americans were happy to see Hernandez exit the game and looked to get to work against his replacement, Deolis Guerra. Kinsler again singled with one out, and Odor’s throwing error on what could have been another Jones double play ball put two US runners on base. However, Venezuelan reliever Jose Castillo entered to strike out Yelich and Nolan Arenado to keep the US off the board.
Odor’s home run off David Robertson extended the Venezuelan lead to 2-0, and he remained the center of the action in the bottom half of the inning at the hot corner. Hosmer’s infield single glanced off a diving Odor’s glove, and Paul Goldschmidt then reached base when Odor couldn’t field a ground ball cleanly. Lucroy later hit a sacrifice fly to get Team USA on the board.
Venezuela will be back in action again Thursday against the Dominican Republic, which also lost its first game in the pool. Team USA returns to the diamond Friday against Puerto Rico, which is yet to lose in four World Baseball Classic games.