Team USA is two wins away from a second straight World Baseball Classic title after beating Venezuela, 9-7, in a thrilling back-and-forth quarterfinal Saturday night. USA won the WBC in 2017 and this is the second time the Americans have advanced out of the second round overall. They went home early in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
Saturday's game had something for everyone: extended rallies, long home runs, multiple lead changes, fantastic defense, clutch strikeouts, goofy errors, and managerial second guessing. USA and Venezuela traded body blows in the late innings, and the decisive blow was Trea Turner's eighth inning go-ahead grand slam.
Here are four takeaways from Saturday night's game, plus a look at what comes next.
1. Five runs in the first
There was quite a bit of foreshadowing in the first inning. It was going to be one of those games. Team USA opened the game with five straight singles -- Martín Pérez recorded his only out when Kyle Tucker took second on a throw and overslid the bag -- to build a 3-0 lead. Venezuela answered right back with a two-run Luis Arraez homer in the bottom of the first.
"I'm dreaming. Right now, I'm dreaming. Am I here? Am I here? Yes, I'm enjoying this a lot," Arraez told USA Today before the game.
Seven of the game's first 10 batters reached base, though Lance Lynn settled down and José Ruiz and Luis Garcia (the Astros one) restored order. Only one run was scored in the next three innings and that one run required two Jose Altuve misplays. He first was unable to handle a grounder, then he couldn't corral a throw at second to start a double play. USA converted that into a run.
2. Astro on Astro crime
A neat thing about the WBC is it often pits MLB teammates against each other. Saturday night, Tucker faced Garcia in a battle of Houston Astros. Twice they faced each other, in fact, and Tucker came out on top both times. He doubled in his first at-bat against Garcia, then wrapped a solo home run around the foul pole to give USA a 5-2 lead in the fifth.
Tucker went 3 for 5 against Venezuela and finished a triple short of the cycle. There has never been a cycle in the WBC. There have been mercy rule shortened no-hitters and perfect games, but never a cycle. The three hits tie USA's single-game record. Ken Griffey Jr. had a three-hit game back in 2006, and Jimmy Rollins had a three-hit game in 2009.
It must be noted that, aside from Tucker's dinger, Garcia was excellent. He threw three scoreless and hitless innings against the Dominican Republic in the first round and followed it up with four innings of two-run ball against USA. It would have been just one run allowed if not for the Altuve misplays.
3. DeRosa had too slow a hook
It has been a brutal WBC for Rockies closer Daniel Bard. He faced 15 batters in the first round and 10 reached base, then Saturday night he melted down spectacularly after entering the fifth inning with a 5-3 lead. Bard's inning went walk, infield single, wild pitch, hit batter, wild pitch, walk. Only seven of his 17 pitches were strikes.
A run scored on Bard's second wild pitch to cut USA's lead to 5-4. At that point USA manager Mark DeRosa mercifully removed Bard, and it was clearly a batter too late. It was obvious right away he didn't have it, yet Bard remained in long enough to uncork a second wild pitch and issue a second walk. Bard faced four batters and all four scored.
To be fair, Jason Adam was not much better after replacing Bard. He allowed the game-tying double to Salvador Perez and go-ahead sac fly to Ronald Acuña Jr. Tim Anderson made a stellar play on a hard-hit grounder to get an out at second base, otherwise the inning could have been a lot worse for the Americans.
USA opted for an inexperienced manager in DeRosa -- the entire coaching staff is inexperienced, really -- and that inexperience was evident Saturday. Adam did not begin to warm up until well into Bard's meltdown, and DeRosa had too slow a hook. There was a decided lack of urgency in USA's dugout during a critical moment in another elimination game.
Altuve, the batter Bard hit, exited the game holding his right hand, it should be noted. The pitch appeared to hit both of Altuve's hands, though he left the field favoring his right hand only. "You don't like it, but we don't have any word yet," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. The club will provide an update Sunday.
4. Turner came to the rescue
Last season Trea Turner authored a .298/.343/.466 batting line with 39 doubles, 21 home runs, and 27 stolen bases in 30 attempts. It earned him an 11-year, $300 million contract with the Phillies over the winter. Turner did that and yet he hit ninth for USA on Saturday. The lineup is that stacked. We saw it in the first inning and we saw it in the eighth inning.
With Venezuela holding a 7-5 lead -- Arraez hit his second homer of the game in the seventh inning -- USA loaded the bases with no outs against lefty José Quijada on a walk, a single, and two-strike hit by pitch. The Americans were down two runs but they were in business, and when Silvino Bracho hung a changeup, Turner did not miss it. Please enjoy the go-ahead grand slam:
Turner & Co. bailed out DeRosa -- players have a way of making the manager look smart, eh? -- and the bullpen made that 9-7 lead stand up. Devin Williams and Ryan Pressly, two of the five or six best relievers in the world, nailed things down in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. Following Perez's game-tying double, 13 of the final 15 batters Venezuela sent to the plate made outs.
5. Up next
The semifinals. Team USA lives to play another day and Venezuela is heading home. It's a quick turnaround too: USA will face Cuba on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET. The winner advances to the championship game on Tuesday.