Colombia spoiled an otherwise stellar start by Julio Urías with three runs in the fifth inning, but that was only part of the story of an incredible game. Colombia needed 10 innings to prevail over Mexico, 5-4 to open Pool C of the World Baseball Classic on Saturday afternoon at Chase Field in Phoenix.
Urías, making his first career WBC appearance, retired the first 12 batters of the game, striking out half of them through the first four innings. But after Mexico staked the left-hander to a 1-0 lead, Colombia greeted Urías rudely in the fifth.
Jorge Alfaro opened the frame with a double to center field, then Elias Díaz doubled to left to tie the game. While Díaz was batting, a pitch from Urías bounced off the plate and struck catcher Austin Barnes in the neck area under his chin, the ball somehow lodging in between his mask and chest protector. After getting checked by trainers and taking a few warmup pitches, Barnes stayed in the game.
Reynaldo Rodriguez, Colombia’s 36-year-old first baseman, turned around an inside fastball, hitting a towering home run off the foul pole in left, giving Colombia the lead.
OFF THE FOUL POLE! COLOMBIA TAKES THE LEAD— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 11, 2023
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Urías’ day was done after five innings and 62 pitches, keeping right in line with building his arm strength up in preparation for the regular season, having thrown four innings and 49 pitches last Sunday.
But this was no spring training game. The intensity was off the charts, even seeping through the television. Still in early March, just shy of three weeks before opening day, Urías averaged 93.4 mph on his fastball on Saturday, above his average during last year’s regular season (93.1 mph).
Urías left trailing 3-1, but Randy Arozarena quickly tied things up with a two-run home run for Mexico.
Barnes, who caught 12 of Urías’ 31 starts last season with the Dodgers, singled in another game-tying rally for Mexico in the eighth inning, with old friend Alex Verdugo driving home the equalizer.
Barnes also doubled in the ninth inning against former Dodgers minor leaguer Guillermo Zuniga. Barnes was pulled for a pinch-runner in a tie game after catching nine innings, but Zuniga escaped the jam.
Colombia retook the lead in the 10th, and Zuniga finished the bottom of the inning with another scoreless frame. Zuniga, who signed a major league free agent deal with the Cardinals in December, averaged 99.3 mph on his fastball Saturday and struck out four.
For Urías to pitch again for Mexico, they’d need to advance to the quarterfinals, which means being one of the top two of the five teams in Pool C, which also includes Team USA, Canada, and Great Britain.