Team U.S.A. used seven pitchers total in their 2-1 win over Japan last night in LA in the World Baseball Classic, but manager Jim Leyland singled one out for praise in his post-game press conference.
“They got one run and it was a solo homer, so I'd have to say that was an excellent job, but the key tonight, without question, was Tanner Roark,” Leyland said.
“There is no question about that. We needed some innings from him, and he gave us those innings. We stayed right in the plan with the Nationals and Tanner, but had he come out tonight and gotten off to a rocky start, we could have been in trouble.”
Roark hadn’t pitched in live action since making his WBC debut in a rocky relief appearance against the Dominican Republic on March 11th.
He was on a strict pitch limit handed down by the Washington Nationals, but managed to get through four scoreless on 48 pitches before he was lifted.
“Fifty was my max because I haven't thrown in nine days,” Roark told reporters after Team U.S.A.’s win.
“I haven't faced live hitters for nine days or so, so that brought the pitch count down a little bit. I felt good enough to stay out there.”
Though Leyland hadn’t turned to Roark since using him in relief back in the first round, he said he was confident in the right-hander going into last night’s game and his faith was rewarded.
“He was the guy that I wanted all along for this thing,” Leyland said. “I've seen him from afar quite a bit, and he was a guy that stuck with us, and I respect him.
“I felt great about it. I told everybody last night, I felt great about my starting pitcher tonight. For once in my life I was proved to be right.”
Roark was asked if he and his fellow American pitchers were out on the mound with a chip on their shoulders after most of the discussion going into the tournament was about which pitchers declined to play for the U.S. in the WBC.
“You know, we've got what we've got, and everybody in there, all the starters are great pitchers and they've done it before,” Roark said.
“They've played in big games before. It's a chip, yes, I guess you could say that. But, overall, we just go out there and do our stuff and not let things get inside our heads.
“We knew we had to bring our A-game,” Andrew McCutchen added, after going 1 for 4 and driving in one of Team USA’s two runs.
“They brought theirs. It definitely was a challenge. It was a really good ballgame. We scored one more run than them, and we were able to get the win. Tanner kept us in the game, and that helped us out big time.
“To get on the scoreboard first, I think that helped us as well. Yeah, it was an all-around great game, great team. It was very fun.”
Up next, the WBC final with Puerto Rico tonight at 9:00 PM EDT in Dodger Stadium.
Leyland said he and his team would be ready for the challenge.
“I'm a little more familiar with the Puerto Rican team, obviously, than I was the Japanese team,” he said.
“I don't plan any changes. You know, we certainly weren't talking about Puerto Rico tonight. We had to beat one heck of team in Japan.
“You know, a lot of the guys, Andrew and Tanner, they've played against a lot of the guys for Puerto Rico. We know it's a very good team, and we certainly have the utmost respect for what they've accomplished so far.
“We've got to derail a team that's been on a roll, that's in good spirits. And we're in those same good spirits. Our guys are pretty happy right now. They'll be ready to play tomorrow.”