The United States, the country that birthed baseball — it its modern form, at least — has yet to formally announce itself as an international power in World Baseball Classic competition.
In the previous three tournaments, Team USA has gone without a single medal, finishing fourth in 2009, its only trip to the semifinals.
If 2017 is to be the year that the Red, White and Blue reign supreme in the world of baseball, it will need first to survive a pool which includes Canada and Colombia, along with a heavily-favored group from the Dominican Republic.
Allowed one loss in the double-elimination round, an opening loss to Colombia would have been back-breaking for the Americans who have yet to face the power ranking topping crew from the DR.
Despite being set down in order through the first 5-2/3 by lefty Jose Quintana (Chicago White Sox), U.S., a sixth-inning perfecto-ending single by Brandon Crawford (San Francisco Giants) helped lead to just enough offense to squeak past Colombia 3-2 in 10 innings.
Behind a tenth-inning single from Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles) the Americans averted perhaps its most embarrassing loss to date in the competition — a tourney opener to a team without one current big league hitter. Perhaps, though, it was exactly the type of test USA needed heading into a showdown of the expected top two teams.
Holding the competition to two runs on Saturday will be a much more demanding feat, as the Yank pitchers will face a Dominican lineup that reads like an All-Star team. Twenty-four hours after facing three-hole hitting minor-leaguer Giovanny Urshela (Cleveland), it will see names like Manny Machado (Orioles), Robinson Cano (Seattle Mariners) and Jose Bautista (Toronto Blue Jays) littered top to bottom.
Searching for positives, the American team has survived into the second round in each of the previous competitions, battling though losses to Mexico, Venezuela and Canada in past opening rounds.
Tasked with the unenviable duties of slowing the start of the Dominicans, who dumped nine runs on Canada and starter Ryan Dempster, will be Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays). His counterpart, Edinson Volquez (Miami Marlins), will take the mound first, playing host in his new MLB home ballpark.
First pitch for the matchup of the top two seeds is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday.