PHOENIX – The night began with two anthems. It saw flags draped over suite balconies and shoulders. It heard baseball Commissioner Bud Selig speak longingly about the "internationalization" of baseball. And it ended with Team USA losing its opening game of the World Baseball Classic 5-2 to Mexico.
Four batters in, U.S. starter R.A. Dickey, the reigning National League Cy Young winner, trailed 2-0 against a Mexico team that seemed to have little trouble tracking his signature knuckleball. Adrian Gonzalez, the American-born Dodgers first baseman, delivered the night's loudest blow with a soaring two-run homer off Dickey in the third inning.
Meanwhile, a star-studded Team USA lineup managed only two RBI singles by David Wright and Eric Hosmer and became the first U.S. team to lose its opener in three WBCs. Sergio Romo, the Giants' closer, pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the save for Mexico, a night after throwing 26 pitches against Italy.
The United States continues opening-round play tonight against upstart Italy, which is 2-0 in Pool D after beating Canada on Friday. The top two teams from four WBC pools advance to the double-elimination second round, with the last four standing reaching the championship round March 17-19 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
The United States reached the championship round four years ago but lost to two-time champion Japan in the semifinals. The U.S. road back got more complicated Friday. In addition to winning its next two games, the United States must worry about run differential, which is used as a tiebreaker if teams finish the opening round with identical records.
"In this format, one game, it just takes a better pitching performance, a better offensive performance, and that's exactly what Mexico did today," said Wright, the U.S. and Mets third baseman. "It's like a Game 7 attitude."
Eduardo Arredondo led off the game by lining Dickey's first pitch for a single. Ramiro Pena laced a double to right, Luis Cruz drove in Arredondo with a sacrifice fly, Gonzalez plated Pena on a soft ground ball to second base, and the United States trailed 2-0 before sending a hitter to the plate.
Arredondo singled again to lead off the third and scored when Gonzalez crushed a 2-1 pitch from Dickey off the wall in center field. Umpires reviewed the play and ruled the ball hit to the right of the yellow line marking balls in play, making it a home run.
"Baseball's baseball, and in tournament play, talent does not always win," Dickey said. "That's just the way it is. So you've got to bring every inning what you can bring, and today I wasn't able to do it to the best of my capability."
With an opening-round 65-pitch limit in effect, Mexico starter Yovani Gallardo earned the win despite departing in the fourth inning with two on and one out. Wright singled off reliever Luis Mendoza to drive in Jimmy Rollins for the Americans' first run. Hosmer singled with two outs in the eighth to score Ryan Braun and make it a three-run game. But Giancarlo Stanton's deep fly ball to right field died at the warning track.
During the game, Selig held an impromptu news conference in which he trumpeted the progress the WBC has made in bringing baseball to a wider global audience.
" Internationalization of the sport is really the goal," he said. " If we do it right, you won't recognize the sport in a decade."
Selig said he envisions a "real World Series" in which champions from different countries play one other.