MIAMI — The United States was in trouble.
The defending World Baseball Classic champion trailed Venezuela by two runs in the eighth inning of a quarterfinal on Saturday night at loanDepot Park. Facing a tough team that had overcome an injury to a star player to take the lead, the right to advance the semifinals was on the line.
Then shortstop Trea Turner, 29, stepped to the plate. With the bases loaded, Turner sent a ball into the left field seats, stealing the momentum of the game in what ended up being a 9-7 win for the U.S. After he connected on the grand slam, Turner let go of his bat, pumped his arms as he hopped out of the batter’s box and turned toward his teammates to scream.
“Individually, it’s probably the biggest hit I’ve ever had,” said Turner, who won the 2019 World Series with the Washington Nationals. Added United States Manager Mark DeRosa, “It’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever been a part of.”
The United States, which won the W.B.C. the last time it was played in 2017, will now face Cuba on Sunday night in a matchup steeped in symbolism, history and emotions. Whoever emerges victorious gets to face the winner of the other semifinal, between Japan and Mexico on Monday. The W.B.C. final will be on Tuesday.
In a tournament that has provided several exciting moments and close games, there has also been some pain. While celebrating a 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, Puerto Rico closer and Mets star Edwin Díaz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. He underwent surgery the next day and is likely out for the 2023 season.
On Saturday, another prominent player was hurt: Venezuela second baseman and Houston Astros star Jose Altuve exited the game in the fifth inning when United States relief pitcher Daniel Bard, whose command had been wild, hit him with a 96-mile per hour fastball. Altuve fell to the ground and left the game holding his right hand. The Astros said Altuve was being examined.
“I’m very worried,” said Venezuela Manager Omar López, who is also an Astros coach. “I’m sad. I’m frustrated.”
From the start on Saturday, the United States appeared to be in control, taking an early lead with its star-studded lineup. But Venezuela wrestled the game back, and the sides traded blows as the innings progressed, with the crowd hanging on every pitch.
“You don’t get to do this a lot, especially this early in the year, having this energy in the stadium,” Turner said. “It was probably the loudest game I’ve ever played in.”
After the United States jumped ahead by 3-0 in the top of the first inning, Venezuela quickly responded in the bottom half when first baseman Luis Arráez clobbered a two-run blast. By the fifth inning, the United States stretched its lead to 5-2 thanks to a solo home run by left fielder Kyle Tucker off his Astros teammate Luis Garcia. But Venezuela charged back yet again.
The United States was undermined by Bard’s wayward command, and Venezuela took a 6-5 lead in the bottom half of the frame. While catcher Salvador Pérez tied the score with a double and Ronald Acuña Jr. provided the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly, Venezuela lost Altuve. And two innings later, Arráez smashed his second home run to give his team a 7-5 lead, sending a crowd that felt largely Venezuelan into a frenzy.
But that all set the stage for the United States’ dramatic comeback in the eighth inning. After second baseman Tim Anderson walked and pinch-hitter Pete Alonso singled, catcher J.T. Realmuto was hit by a pitch to load the bases for his new Philadelphia Phillies teammate Turner, who was hitting last in this loaded lineup. And when Turner saw a changeup over the middle of the plate from Silvino Bracho, he was able to save the day.
“When Trea clipped that ball, honestly, I saw about 35 guys, including the coaches, kind of black out and lose their minds for a minute,” DeRosa said. “It was just an awesome moment.”