UPDATE: Michael Saunders stayed hot with a two-run homer off Derek Holland in his first at-bat Sunday. It’s 2-2 between US and Canada heading to the bottom of the fifth.
I’ve gone on a short road trip to Phoenix today to cover the decisive game of this round of the World Baseball Classic between theh US and Canada. Sometimes, run differential decide who moves on, but fortunately, it’s unambiguous: Whoever wins this game at Chase Field advances to the next round in Miami.
Yesterday, I’m sure Mariners officials were extremely nervous during that wild Canada-Mexico brawl, hoping that Michael Saunders and Oliver Perez escaped unscathed. During batting practice, I had a chance to talk to Saunders — the hottest hitter on Team Canada, by the way — and he reports that he was not hurt during the dustup. But that’s not to say he wasn’t in the middle of it.
“I think everyone was in the middle of it, like you’re supposed to be,” he said. “You’re supposed to be able to stand up for your teammates. At that point, yeah, you have to have your head on a swivel, but you’re more worried about your teammates than anything. It doesn’t look nearly as bad being out there as if you’re the last one in the dugout. You have to take care of business, you have to stand up for yourself, and we did that yesterday.”
That said, Saunders said he served a peace-making role and didn’t get involved in the serious fighting that was breaking out all over the field.
“Not a punch. No punches thrown from me, and did not get hit by anything. I was more the mediator, trying to get guys off people. Everyone was fired up, rightfully so. You’re playing for your country, a heated moment. It’s part of the game. You don’t see it a lot, that’s what people don’t understand, but it is part of the game. When the time comes, you have to be ready to go and stand up for your team.”
Meanwhile, Saunders is on a torrid pace as the No. 5 hitter in Canada’s lineup, behind former MVPs Joey Votto and Justin Morneau. In two games — a loss to Italy, and the win over Mexico — Saunders is 6-for-7 with two walks. He has three doubles, has scored three runs and driven in five. That’s a .857-.889-1.286 slash line for an OPS of 2.175, in case you were wondering.
“I’m just seeing the ball well, not trying to do too much with it,” he said. “We had a great game as a team yesterday, and everybody’s swinging it. It’s contagious. Hitting’s contagious. Yesterday was a lot of fun, but just like the first day, we’ve moved on, it’s in the past, we have to concentrate on today’s game.”
The reference was to the Italy game, which put Canada in a hole it can now climb out of with a win today.
“It just shows the heart and character we have in the clubhouse to come out the way we did yesterday,” he said. “Now we have the same kind of attitude: Yesterday is over with, we have to concentrate on today. If you’re not fired up for this one, something’s wrong with you.”