PHOENIX -- And suddenly, Mexico is now in a must-win situation as it faces a rested and ready Team USA on Friday night at 9 ET at Chase Field in a game broadcast live nationally on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
While the U.S. leisurely worked out under an open roof at Chase on Thursday as it readied to finally play its long awaited opener in Pool D, Mexico was shocked by upstart Italy, 6-5, at Salt River Fields.
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Team USA manager Joe Torre is sending Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey out to start against Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo and Mexico, which can ill afford another loss as it tries to stave off elimination.
Dickey, a 20-game winner with the Mets last season and the National League's reigning Cy Young Award winner, is familiar with a few of Mexico's players from his most recent stint pitching in the Senior Circuit. Dickey was traded to Toronto in the offseason.
"I know Adrian [Gonzalez] and [Luis] Cruz, I know a couple of the names," said Dickey, referring to the pair of Dodgers. "But I think if I'm throwing 65 pitches and can execute 60 good knuckleballs, then we're probably going to be in a good position. It's helpful to know things like who likes to run, who likes to bunt. Things like that, they're helpful, sure. And especially from my standpoint, they know what they're getting. I know what I'm throwing. It's just a matter of who does it better."
Giants closer Sergio Romo blew a 5-4 lead for Mexico in the ninth inning Thursday when left fielder Edgar Gonzalez couldn't handle a pair of catchable fly balls. Edgar, 34 years old and the older brother of Adrian by four years, hasn't played in the big leagues since 2009, and as an infielder was out of position. Italy's Nick Punto launched a ball over Edgar's head for a double and the elder Gonzalez dropped Anthony Rizzo's fly for another double that put the Italians ahead.
Jorge Cantu grounded out with the bases loaded against Italian closer Jason Grilli to end the game.
Mexico has two more shots: against the U.S. on Friday and against Canada on Saturday. Mexico made it out of the first round during the first two Classics in 2006 and '09, both won by Japan. This time, the Mexicans were one of the favorites to emerge from this pool and play in the second round at Miami's Marlins Park next week. The two winners here face the winners of the Puerto Rico pool in Miami.
"You know what? Tomorrow's another day," Mexico manager Rick Renteria said after the tough loss. "Keep your heads up because we battled. If we had quit, I would have been very upset. But we didn't quit. We kept fighting, we kept playing the game. And it became a pretty damn good ball game out there, and we just fell a little short. Excuse my French."
The U.S. has never finished higher than fourth place, losing to Mexico in the final game of the second round at Anaheim in 2006, and to Japan in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium three years later.
The Americans have faced their own trials and tribulations this week, losing reliever Chris Perez (right shoulder) and starting first baseman Mark Teixeira (right wrist) to injury. They were replaced by David Hernandez and Eric Hosmer, respectively. Teixeira, the All-Star Yankees first baseman, strained a tendon hitting balls off a tee prior to Tuesday's exhibition game against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. He's projected to be out eight to 10 weeks.
Torre, who last managed in 2010 for the Dodgers and came out of retirement to work this tournament, said that he's satisfied with the makeup of his team despite the absence of many high-profile players.
"Every single one of them [on the roster] is excited to be having this opportunity of playing for the U.S.," Torre said. "To me, they're here for a reason. Each and every one of them picked themselves up and left their teams. It's not because they have to be here. It's because they want to be."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.