by Mike Potter
COLEMAN FIELD/CARY It's the finale of the four-game Canada at USA exhibition series preparing for baseball's World Cup, and today the U.S. team will go for the sweep.
Team USA is batting in the top of the inning each time. And the ninth inning is going to be different no matter what as it's going to be played under international tiebreaker rules.
There's an active crowd on hand, as the National Training Complex is also the site this weekend of the Labor Day Cup involving 16 high level youth teams.
Canada is wearing some very odd jerseys. The national red is the primary color, but the letters and numbers are also in the identical color and lightly outlined in black. So it's anyone's guess as to who is who.
The USA gets off to a big start in the first off big right-hander Matt Kniginyzky, but doesn't get as much out of the rally as it should. It all turns out well in the end, though, as the USA wins 11-2.
Buck Coats and Trevor Plouffe lead off with back-to-back doubles, followed by a walk to Justin Smoak and a Terry Tiffee (pictured) single to center that sends Plouffe to third. But Josh Kroeger's one-out grounder to second provides the only other RBI for a 2-0 lead.
Brett Lawrie wastes little time halving the lead for Canada, leading off the second by blasting Cory Luebke's 2-2 offering off the screen behind the wall at the 400 mark in straightaway center.
The lead goes to 3-1 in the third as Smoak draws a leadoff walk, advances on a Tiffee single and scores on Jason Castro's sacrifice fly to center.
The USA lead increases in the fourth. Tug Hulett hits a one-out single, advances on Coats' single and scored on Plouffe's single to left. After Coats is out at the plate on Smoak's fielder's choice. Tiffee's double to left makes it 5-1 and chases Kniginyzky.
It goes to 6-1 in the fifth, as Kroeger hits an infield single and advances on third baseman Shawn Bowman's errant throw, moves to third on former Durham Bull Jon Weber's grounder to first and scores on Hulett's sacrifice fly to right.
Tiffee stays on a tear in the sixth. After Plouffe reaches on an infield hit and steals second, Tiffee brings him home with a one-out single to left, then scores himself on Kroeger's single up the middle that makes it 8-1.
It goes to 9-1 in the seventh as Lucas May singles and scores on Daniel Descalso's double to right.
And in the eighth Weber comes through, following Kroeger's two-out single to left by blasting the next pitch over the wall in right to make it 11-1.
Canada gets its last regulation run in the eighth on a pair of walks and Chris Robinson's two-out single to right.
Both teams completely blow the tiebreaker. USA skipper Eddie Rodriguez starts with his seventh and eighth hitters on base while Canada's Ernie Whitt goes with his eighth and ninth. Neither is able even to move a runner.
Here's what they said ...
USA manager Eddie Rodriguez: "I'm very impressed with our team. We've gotten hits when we had to. We've got good arms. Tiffee is a natural leader who leads by example and speaks up when it's necessary. Weber is part of that leadership, too, and he's a gamer."
Tiffee: "We just have to keep doing what we've been doing. This team is coming together really well. At this level most of us have played against each other and know what the other guys can do. We have a lot of respect for each other."
Weber: "We've come together as a team, and our bats really woke up tonight. I've been impressed all along with the arms we have."
What does it all mean?
That Team USA is riding high going into the tournament on its four-game streak while Canada, which could have won three of the four games, has proven it's going to be competitive.
Stars of the game
1. Tiffee, for 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBI.
2. Coats, for three hits including two doubles.
3. Plouffe, for three hits including a double with two RBI and three runs.
Play of the game
Kroeger's catch at the wall in right center to rob Emerson Frostad of extra bases to lead off the fifth.
USA leads 4-0.
USA: Won 4.
Canada: Lost 4.
USA vs. Venezuela in Regensberg, Germany, Thursday, 1 p.m. (EDT)
Canada vs. Korea in Sundbyberg, Sweden, Thursday, 1 p.m. (EDT)