AJAX, Ontario -- It took an extra inning to make it happen, but the Canadian men successfully defended their men’s baseball title at the Pan American Games, while the U.S. settled for silver.
The back-and-forth border battle ended in a series of errors by Team USA to yield a 7-6 loss. Two throwing errors in the bottom of the 10th – one from the pitcher to first base and another from right field to third – turned an attempted pick-off into a two-run swing.
“That’s not really the way that you’d like to lose a baseball game,” said U.S. manager Jim Tracy, who boasts 856 MLB wins over an 11-year career. “If you’re going to get beat, you’d like to see yourself get beat at home plate, but not throwing the ball away.”
With international extra innings rules in place, Canada automatically began the inning with runners on first and second, setting up for the three-run, go-ahead play. However, Team USA built its two-run cushion – through a two-RBI double from Tyler Pastornicky – under the same constraints.
“After the Pastornicky double, we’re one hit away from making it really, really hard for anybody to come back,” Tracy said. “I thought we were in pretty doggone good shape.”
Canada overcame a three-run deficit to take a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning, then U.S. leftfielder Albert Almora tied the game in the seventh on an RBI single – shaping an extra innings showdown between teams who also played for gold at the 2011 Pan Ams, where Canada scored its first title.
“It’s a very humbling game,” said third baseman Tyler Pastornicky. “It’ll make you feel the highest you’ve ever felt in your life and bring it to your knees before you know it.”
Though it did not end the way they wished, Tracy said the U.S. athletes’ Pan Ams experience is unlike anything they go through in their Minor League Baseball and will help the 24 players as they go back to their teams.
The beauty of this tournament, Tracy said, is that it combines seasoned veterans with ambitious prospects in the same clubhouse, building bonds through a unified vision of chasing gold for their country.
“They will not feel in their bellies what they felt playing the last couple of days out here – I promise you that,” Tracy said. “You learn things about people when you expose them to situations like this here.
“They don’t have a scenario that they can create in the minor leagues to where these kids feel the stress and the pressure and everything else that goes into playing baseball in the postseason. This was a great learning experience for all those young people.”
Pastornicky is trying to find his way back to the major leagues and hopes his experience in Toronto will help him get there. After three sub-par seasons with the Atlanta Braves, where he hit .243/.295/.314 in 124 games, the utility infielder saw the Pan Ams as an avenue to build upon his professional repertoire.
The former Major League Baseball starting shortstop called this past week one of the best of his life.
The players and coaches who spoke about the tournament did so with passion – and with an optimistic hope of bringing baseball back to the Olympics, where it has been absent since 2008.
“This was an absolute privilege for me to be a part of this,” Tracy said. “There were some things that took place out here that were just as special as some of the things that took place over an 11-year managerial career in the major leagues.”