B. Martinez still upbeat after U.S. knockdown

Canada loss over, manager unfazed

March 10, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Buck Martinez says he gets it.

As the manager of the United States' World Baseball Classic entry, Martinez understands the disappointment after his team filled with major league stars lost to an unheralded, hockey-loving nation like Canada.

He realizes that he may be grouped with the NBA's Larry Brown, who couldn't lead his bunch of all-star basketball players to an Olympic gold medal, despite having the most talent.

Martinez knows every fan and so-called expert in the country expected the U.S. squad to cruise to the second round of the Classic, and that Canada's 8-6 win Wednesday shocked the baseball world. He accepts that he could be the fall guy if the squad further disappoints.

The pressure, Martinez said, is welcomed.

"The expectations should be high when you have this kind of roster," said Martinez, also an Orioles TV broadcaster, in a telephone interview from Phoenix. "But I don't think the outside expectations have exceeded the expectations we have for ourselves, given the talent that we have."

After Wednesday's loss, Martinez said the clubhouse "was tough. It was a very quiet atmosphere." But one of the team's biggest stars, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, refused to let his teammates get down.

"After the game, Derek Jeter was in the trainer's room, and he was like, `Don't worry. It's going to be all right,'" Martinez said. "Everybody in here is resolved that we have a job to do."

What was lost in Wednesday's defeat, Martinez said, is that Canada is a strong baseball country with a solid history in international play. After having to come back against South Africa in the first game in Phoenix, Martinez said he expected Canada to start fast against the United States.

The Canadians took an 8-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth and then held off an American rally that was paced by Jason Varitek's grand slam. The United States' Chase Utley nearly gave the Americans the lead in the eighth, but Canadian outfielder Adam Stern caught the deep drive to center just before the wall. Five feet in another direction, and it would have been a homer, Martinez said.

The other star for the Canadian team was Orioles prospect Adam Loewen, who pitched at Single-A Frederick in 2005. He threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Americans and picked up the win. Martinez had seen Loewen, 21, struggle during last year's spring training, but this time Martinez left impressed.

"It really should do a lot for his confidence, and he can take it into the regular season," Martinez said. "And he has to feel better about his standing in the organization. It was a good step for him."

As for the U.S. team, Martinez said the upset just proves the old cliche is true, that any team can beat another on a given night. "I think there is disappointment. I think there is disappointment in the clubhouse, more than anything," Martinez said. "But I think this has done what [commissioner] Bud Selig hoped it would do. Let everyone know that there [are] some good baseball countries around the world, some that have not been taken seriously in the past."

Dominican manager Manny Acta reiterated the competitiveness of the Classic after his team advanced to the Classic's second round with an 8-3 win over Italy here yesterday.

"You never have enough [talent] in baseball," Acta said. "This is not the [Michael] Jordan Bulls against the [Los Angeles] Clippers. I mean, it's a very short tournament; anything can happen here."

Still, the U.S. wasn't supposed to need another team's help to get into the second round. Because Mexico defeated Canada by more than two runs last night, the U.S. will win a bracket tiebreaker with a victory over South Africa today.

If the Americans do bow out today and don't advance to the second round in Anaheim, Calif., Martinez said he still thinks the Classic has to be considered a success. Because, he said, the energy and excitement have been palpable.

"Just the atmosphere for the Mexico game and the chants of U-S-A when Varitek hit the grand slam, it's just been incredible," he said. "People have really bought into this. We just hope we can get to see it again in Anaheim."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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