Canada and the United States played nine innings of baseball – then settled the Pan Am Games gold-medal game with something only slightly resembling it.
International baseball’s bizarre extra-innings rules and an even more bizarre series of errors worked in Team Canada’s favour as they won gold for the second consecutive Games, earning a walkoff 7-6 victory over the U.S. on Sunday.
After being tied 4-4 after nine innings the teams headed to extras where the rules state that each inning begins with runners on first and second, nobody out, and the batting team can start from anywhere in the batting order.
The U.S. took advantage of the rule first. Former big-leaguer Tyler Pastornicky hit a double with the bases loaded that gave the U.S. a 6-4 lead heading to the bottom of the tenth.
Canada got one run back quickly on a single by Peter Orr that scored Tyson Gillies from second. With runners still on first and second, a scene straight out of Little League broke out.
The U.S. brought in lefty reliever David Huff to face Canada’s Jordan Lennerton. Huff, who pitched in the majors as recently as June 2, inexplicably made a pick-off attempt at first base but missed badly and the ball went into right field. Canada’s Skyler Stromsmoe scored easily from second to tie the game. Orr raced around to third where the relay was again thrown wide. Orr raced home, there was a play at the plate, but the catcher couldn’t hang on to the ball and Orr’s run was the winner.
Got all that? Canada won on two, maybe three, errors on a routine throw over to first to check on a runner who had nowhere to go with second base already occupied. The scene ended with Canadian players mobbing Orr at home plate, and the U.S. team looking on in shock and disbelief.
This game was a rematch of the 2011 gold-medal game in Guadalajara. In that game Canada scored two runs in the sixth and held off for a surprising 2-1 win and its first baseball gold medal. The win also ended a run of 10 consecutive gold medals by Cuba. The United States now hasn’t won a Pan Am Games baseball gold medal since 1967.
Two days before the wacky gold-medal game Canada could have knocked the U.S. out of the tournament but lost a preliminary-round game 4-1, allowing the U.S. to move on to the semi-finals. Heading into the 10th inning on Sunday the U.S. looked sure to snap its gold-medal drought. It would have capped a remarkable late-tournament turn around for American team. After losses to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the U.S. the must-win game against Canada on Friday. In the semis against Cuba, the U.S. trailed 5-1 late in the game before scoring four runs in the seventh to tie the game, then won it in the ninth on a walkoff single by Andrew Parrino.
But now it is Canada putting together a run of consecutive gold medals. Canada went 6-1 to win the tournament that is full of baseball powerhouses. Canada beat the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the United States en route to the gold.
In another situation unique to international baseball and short tournaments like this, Jeff Francis got the start for Canada Sunday after earning two saves as a reliever earlier in the week. He went seven innings, giving up four runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts. The 34-year-old, 11-year major-league veteran pitched in eight games with the Blue Jays in April and May. The U.S. got to him early building a 3-0 lead by the third inning. But Canada responded quickly thanks to a Rene Tosoni two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the third.
The Canadian women’s baseball team will try to match the men’s feat when their tournament begins Monday. It is the first time women’s baseball has been contested at an international sporting event.
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