How Canada can advance out of Pool C at World Baseball Classic

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PHOENIX – The math on the advancement scenarios for Pool C in the World Baseball Classic can get a little gnarly, so let’s start simple.

First, the winner of Canada-Mexico, both 2-1 heading into their Wednesday afternoon clash, is going to Miami for the quarter-finals. The United States, also 2-1, joins them if they take care of Colombia, which is 1-2, in the evening.

Those are the cleanest and most straightforward outcomes on the final day at Chase Field and, as Canadian manager Ernie Whitt put it after his team’s 5-0 win over Colombia on Tuesday, “that takes all the math out of play.”

Now, the math comes back into play if Colombia manages to surprise the United States.

Should that happen, both would both be 2-2, as would the loser of Canada-Mexico, creating a three-way tie for the second quarter-final berth and the need for number-crunching.

In Scenario No. 1, Colombia, Mexico and the United States all finish 2-2. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head play, and in a three-team scenario, if one team won all its games against the other teams, it takes the highest spot. In this case, Colombia, which opened with a victory over Mexico and then would have beaten the Americans in the finale, moves on.

In Scenario No. 2, Canada, Colombia and the United States all finish 2-2. The first tiebreaker doesn’t work since each of the teams finished 1-1 against the other two, so we move on to the second tiebreaker, which is the lowest quotient of fewest runs allowed divided by the number of defensive outs recorded in the games in that round between the teams tied.

Canada suffered a 12-1, mercy-rule loss to the Americans and then shut out Colombia 5-0, allowing 12 runs while recording 45 outs. Colombia has allowed five runs with 27 outs heading into the finale while the United States, barring a double-digit slugfest Wednesday, is in the driver’s seat with one run against and 21 outs thus far.

For both Canada and Mexico, that really means there’s just one lane to the next round: win the last game.

No matter how that plays out, Great Britain, which had a tremendous tournament, is out of the running, at 1-3.

But they’ll have something at stake Wednesday too, because if Colombia loses and also finishes 1-3, the Brits would finish fourth in the group and secure a spot in the next World Baseball Classic, which could be as soon as 2026. Colombia would finish last and need to re-qualify next time.

LET’S GET ROWDY: Rowdy Tellez spots a couple of familiar faces, decides to walk over and, before pleasantries can be exchanged, starts shaking his head. “I’m not talking to anyone from Canada,” he said with a smirk.

The big man is kidding, of course – Ryan is almost exclusively known as “Rowdy” for a reason – although plenty will be at stake Wednesday when Tellez and Mexico clash with Canada for a berth in Miami.

Tellez, born in Sacramento, Calif., is eligible to play for Mexico through his dad’s lineage, and when the opportunity to join came up, “I didn’t turn it down. I really wanted to play. Found out we were playing in Arizona, kind of close to home. And it’s been amazing, playing for the country that my dad grew up with and my family’s from. It’s a very special moment for my family.”

Also special for the 27-year-old drafted in the 30th round of the 2013 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays is the progress he’s made since his July 6, 2021, trade to the Milwaukee Brewers for reliever Trevor Richards and minor-league righty Bowden Francis.

Stuck without a path to playing time on the Blue Jays, he’s found regular at-bats with the Brewers, batting .272/.33/.481 in 56 games after the deal before ripping 35 homers with 89 RBIs in 153 games last year. 

In many ways, he’s the left-handed power threat the Blue Jays sought when they gave Brandon Belt $9.3 million this off-season.

“I always told people that I felt like if I got a full season and a full amount of at-bats, I played in 155 games last year, that I could perform at a high level and be an elite hitter,” said Tellez. “There’s always room for improvement. I had a good year to build on. Power showed up, but I’m definitely a better hitter than .219. All in all, it’s just a learning curve. I got a chance to play every day and that’s what I needed to show people I’m capable of it. But now I need to be better and to build on it.”

Tellez remains the same hitter from a mechanics and approach standpoint that he was with the Blue Jays, but really benefitted from manager Craig Counsell telling him when he arrived that, “‘You’re the guy, I’m going to give you a chance to show us what you can do.’”

“Having that mental freedom, knowing that a manager had faith in me and I was going to play 95 per cent of the time, gave me peace of mind, the ability to go out and be myself,” Tellez added. “And if I did fail that day or if I was struggling, knowing that I was still going to be in the lineup also gave me a peace of mind on defence, being able to impact the team in a positive way, even if my bat wasn’t working.”

MATHIESON’S MOMENT: Scott Mathieson hadn’t closed out a game since he retired from the Yomiuri Giants in Japan at the end of the 2019 season, when he came out for the ninth inning of Canada’s 5-0 win over Colombia, and some old feelings hit in different ways as he did.

“My whole career, I always struggled with the butterflies and that nervousness going out there. That early in my career, I hated and I didn’t know how to handle,” said Mathieson. “Getting to feel it again, I realize it’s one of the things I miss the most. So, like riding a bike and a little emotional, where it’s something that I really, truly missed. I loved being out there.”

The 39-year-old from Aldergrove, B.C., has stayed in shape but only really started ramping things up about three weeks before the World Baseball Classic. Nonetheless, he didn’t look overly rusty in working around a couple of singles to open the frame before getting out of trouble.

“I’m on Day 17 of playing catch right now, but like I told Greg Hamilton and Team Canada, I’ll never say no,” said Mathieson. “I’ll play international baseball as long as I possibly can, as long as I can help the team, whether that’s mopping up innings or helping young guys, whatever it is. Any chance I get to do that again, I’m going for it. It’s a game that I grew up loving. I had to do it one more time.”

The inning may be his last, depending on what happens with Canada moving forward. He closed out a dominant pitching performance behind Noah Skirrow, Curtis Taylor and Trevor Brigden.

“I’m in awe and a little jealous that I used to be able to do that, but I don’t quite have that anymore,” he said of watching his teammates dominate. “It’s exciting to see them and to know that they have great futures ahead of them. The way they threw is pretty incredible. We’ve had a hard time throwing up zeroes in this tournament so far, so it’s nice to be able to throw up a lot of zeroes (on Tuesday).”

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