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Double trouble: Nolan Arenado’s three hits, ‘intensity’ ignites Team USA victory

Batting back-to-back for their country just as they will this season for their club, Cardinals corner infielders Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt hoisted Team USA back from a small deficit to win its World Baseball Classic opener.

The U.S. club trailed by a run to Great Britain when a couple of potential future red jackets rallied the star-spangled team.

In the third inning, Arenado smashed a double down the third-base line and past a diving infielder to bring Goldschmidt home and tie the game, 1-1. Philadelphia slugger Kyle Schwarber put the game away with a three-run homer that sent Team USA to a 6-2 victory at Chase Field late Saturday night. 

The rally made a winner of U.S. right-hander and Cardinals’ ace emeritus Adam Wainwright in his first ever start for the national team.

Arenado, the Cardinals’ third baseman and a finalist for the NL MVP this past season, overwhelmed the first game of pool play for the U.S. team. He had three hits, including two doubles, and finished the game with two RBIs. Arenado stumbled at first as he legged out an infield single. He also had a series of plays at third base that left teammate Wainwright suggesting he hasn’t played with a better fielder.

“First off, he’s just a flat-out superstar,” Team USA manager and former Cardinals infielder Mark DeRosa said in the post-game press conference. “The intensity with which he works pregame is honestly like, I’m not sugarcoating it, like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s intense in ground balls. He’s intense in his cage work.”

In 2017, Arenado and Goldschmidt both struggled in the World Baseball Classic for Team USA as it won the tournament’s title.

Goldschmidt was replaced at times in the lineup, and Arenado hit .161. He struck out in more than a third of his at-bats.

“I think it’s just today was just our day,” Arenado said in a press conference after the win. “We had good at-bats today. And 2017 we didn’t have to have good at-bats; the other guys picked us up.”

The second batter of the game, Trayce Thompson, tagged a solo homer off Wainwright to give Great Britain the early and short-lived lead. Wainwright gamely teased through the lineup from there. The right-hander finished with four innings and allowed five hits and struck out four. 

Wainwright had not pitched in nine days, and he had that time to continue to work on what he left Cardinals camp doing. He has been trying to get a muscle in his leg to respond and fire more powerfully to help restore some of the velocity lacking from his pitches so far this spring. For Team USA, his velocity remained down from his averages in 2022, though he had pitches that perked up over what he’s thrown so far this season.

Wainwright touched 87 mph with his sinker, and he hit 85.9 mph with his four seamer. He got three swings and misses on his curve.

Miles Mikolas is set to start Team USA’s final pool play game against Colombia later in the week.

Great Britain plays Tyler O’Neill’s Team Canada on Saturday.

Team USA faces Giovanny Gallegos’ Team Mexico on Saturday.

Mexico was upset by Colombia and is now playing to regain a foothold to advance to the knock-out rounds of the tournament.

A crowd of 39,650 gathered at Chase Field for the U.S. game and former Arizona Diamondback first baseman Goldschmidt’s return to the ballpark in the home lineup. There were “U.S.A” chants, a raucous vibe, and when Schwarber rounded third after his home run he saluted, saying later that would be the team’s celebration during the tournament.

“I think also there’s like 12 George Washingtons and two Ben Franklins out there,” Arenado said of the crowd. “It feels pretty good. Those get me hyped up, too.”

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

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