Thanks to the one, two punch teamwork of pitcher Gio Gonzalez and slugger David Wright, Team USA got its best start yet in the World Baseball Classic.
Gonzalez pitched five scoreless innings as the Americans beat Puerto Rico 7-1 on Tuesday night.
Wright, also affectionately known as ‘Captain America,’ drove in five runs. The last three occurred with a bases-loaded double in the eighth which quickly prompted chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" from the 32,872 fans in Marlins Stadium.
"Obviously the adrenalin gets pumping for this tournament," Wright said. "You wear that uniform, you want to go out there and represent your country. Hitting in this lineup is ridiculous. You have some of the best hitters in the game, and it creates some matchup problems."
The United States fell behind in all three games in the opening round, but led from the first inning against Puerto Rico.
The Americans will play Thursday night against the Dominican Republic, which remained unbeaten in the WBC by rallying past Italy 5-4 on Tuesday.
"It's a marquee matchup," U.S. manager Joe Torre said. "They haven't lost. They've got some guys having some fun. They have a lot of confidence. But I feel good about my team."
Puerto Rico plays Italy in an elimination game Wednesday.
"If you go inside our clubhouse, everybody is up," manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "We lost today. Turn the page. We concentrate on Wednesday."
Gonzalez, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, struck out five for the hometown team and departed with a 3-0 lead. He said U.S. pitching coach Greg Maddux helped him keep from getting distracted by the importance of the game and the big crowd.
"He said to think about fishing or something and take your mind off it," Gonzalez said. "Tune it out and think of something real simple. When you get some of the greats of baseball to help you out with your composure and keep your tunnel vision, that's the best you can do."
Gonzalez lowered the ERA of the U.S. rotation to 4.00.
"Gio set the tone early, coming out and absolutely getting us in the dugout quick," Wright said. "We didn't have to play too long on defense, and we kept putting runners on base. It was building that momentum, and Gio started it."
Gonzalez said he worked well with catcher Joe Mauer and shook him off only once.
"He was tough," Mauer said. "Early on he was trying to find his curveball. After the third inning he pretty much had everything going."
Five U.S. relievers combined to allow one run over the final four innings.
Wright had an RBI groundout in the third and a run-scoring single in the fifth. He's 7 for 16 (.438) with 10 RBIs in four games.
"It makes my job a lot easier when I'm hitting behind Ryan Braun and Joe Mauer," Wright said. "It seems like every at-bat there were runners in scoring position."
Mauer's two-out RBI double scored Braun in the opening inning. The Americans added a run in the third on singles by Brandon Phillips and Braun and Wright's groundout.
Adam Jones had a two-run single in the seventh.
Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton earned a big cheer from the Miami crowd when he made a running catch at the warning track to rob Martin Maldonado of a two-out, two-RBI hit in the fourth inning. Stanton also ended an 0-for-7 slump when he singled twice and walked.
"It's one of those things where you don't realize it has only been two games," Stanton said. "You can say I was pressing a little bit, but it was seven at-bats and I had good at-bats and put good swings on the ball before. So it wasn't a big deal. But it's nice to get them for sure."
Braun and Mauer each reached base four times.
Puerto Rico starter Mario Santiago allowed three runs in 4 1-3 innings. Angel Pagan's drove in Puerto Rico'srun in the eighth.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.