By: Will Burchfield
Down by a run in the top of the ninth and staring at a potential first-round exit in the World Baseball Classic, Venezuela sent its best hitter to the plate.
Miguel Cabrera took care of the rest.
He launched a towering home run to right center field to knot things at two, triggering a three-run rally that lifted Venezuela to a 4-3 win over Italy in a first-round tiebreaker game on Monday night.
Venezuela will face USA in a second-round matchup on Wednesday night.
Cabrera’s home run, his first of the 2017 tournament, was his sixth overall in World Baseball Classic play, tying him for second all-time with Israel’s Nate Freiman and Cuba’s Frederich Cuba.
Italy manager Marco Mazzieri was anything but surprised to see the best hitter in Venezuela history come through for his country again.
“Miguel Cabrera has been known to us. He’s been doing it for 15 years now. It’s all right. We’ll take it. We’ve got to swallow it. It’s not going to be easy, but eventually we have to,” said Mazzieri, whose team was knocked out of the tournament.
Tigers Victor Martinez and Francisco Rodriguez also contributed to Venezuela’s win. Martinez worked a walk after Cabrera’s home run and was lifted for pinch-runner Yangervis Solarte, who came around to score the go-ahead run. Rodriguez nailed down the save in the bottom of the ninth.
Had Venezuela lost on Monday night, it would have been a seriously disappointing tournament for a team long on MLB talent. The high stakes were weighing heavy on team manager and Tigers first base coach Omar Vizquel the night before the game.
“I remember when I played in Game 7 of the World Series in 1997. That night before the game it was really stressful, and I hadn’t felt that way until last night,” he said. “It’s been a really hard road. … You know, I’ve had butterflies all over my body every day, and we finally came up with a win.”