Team Venezuela defeated Team Italy 4-3 in Monday night’s Group D tiebreaker, earning the right to advance to the second round — Pool F — of the World Baseball Classic.
Italy took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when John Andreoli doubled and promptly scored on a Daniel Descalso RBI single off of Venezuela starter Omar Bencomo.
Venezuela finally crossed the plate in the top of the sixth as Alcides Escobar led off with a walk and Odubel Herrera reached on a throwing error. Then, after Escobar was forced out at third base on a grounder, Ender Inciarte grounded a single to right field on a ball deflected by first baseman Chris Colabello, plating Herrera to tie the game at one apiece.
Andreoli broke the tie in the seventh inning, drilling a solo home run to right-center field off of Jose Alvarado, giving Italy a 2-1 lead.
Italy reliever Tiago Da Silva kept Venezuela off the board in the eighth, but Mike De Mark started the ninth by serving up a game-tying solo home run to Miguel Cabrera. DeMark then walked Victor Martinez and allowed a long go-ahead RBI single to Rougned Odor that was several inches from becoming a two-run home run. Odor thought it was a homer off the bat, which is why he didn’t run hard and was held to a single. Lefty Frailyn Florian relieved DeMark and gave up a single to right field to Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez tried to stretch it into a double and was tagged when he slid off the bag. Alcides Escobar then laid down a suicide squeeze bunt to give Venezuela an insurance run at 4-2.
The drama didn’t end there. With veteran MLB closer Francisco Rodriguez on the hill attempting to nail down the game, Alex Liddi led off the bottom of the ninth by crushing a solo home run to center field, cutting Italy’s deficit to 4-3. From there, Rodriguez was able to settle down, getting Gavin Cecchini, Drew Maggi, and Andreoli to ground out consecutively to end the game in a 4-3 victory for Venezuela.
Venezuela (2-2) joins Puerto Rico (3-0) from Pool D into Pool F, along with the Dominican Republic (3-0) and the United States (2-1) coming from Pool C. Venezuela kicks off play in the second round on Wednesday night at Petco Park against the United States.
After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.
According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.
Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.
Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.