Team Netherlands had loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth inning. They were down, 6-1, to Italy in a must-win game and Team Italy manager Mike Piazza had turned to LaSorsa — a Rays Minor Leaguer — to shut things down. It was a huge moment for the 24-year-old. He was pitching to keep his ancestral home alive in the World Baseball Classic against three formidable former big leaguers.
“I had to throw strikes, plain and simple as that,” LaSorsa said.
Jonathan Schoop. Strikeout.
Roger Bernadina. Strikeout.
LaSorsa then put on one of the more animated celebrations in recent baseball history — stalking to the dugout, slamming his hat to the ground and hugging anybody and everybody he could find in Italy’s dugout.
“I was afraid he was gonna hurt himself,” Italy manager Mike Piazza said postgame. “I didn’t want the Rays to call us and say, ‘What is going on?'”
The great escape helped Italy to an eventual 7-1 win, produced an unbelievable five-way tie in Pool A and, most importantly, clinched a trip for Italy to Tokyo for Round 2 of the Classic. Cuba also advanced via the tiebreaker formula.
Things didn’t look great for Team Italy at the outset. In what was mostly a pitchers’ duel for the first 4 1/2 innings, Netherlands struck first with a Chadwick Tromp home run.
Italy wasn’t hitting in key situations, as Piazza stressed was the issue during its loss against Chinese Taipei. But then, in the bottom of the fourth, Italy exploded for six runs — almost as many as it scored in its last game.
Dominic Fletcher doubled, Vinny Pasquantino singled and then, after Vito Friscia was hit by pitch, the bases were loaded with nobody out.
Brett Sullivan singled in a run and a Mike Bolsenbroek wild pitch brought in another to give Team Italy a 2-1 lead. Singles by Ben DeLuzio and Sal Frelick brought in two more before Nicky Lopez — who did nothing but hit and play Gold Glove-level defense here in Taiwan — laced a two-run triple into the gap. You could hear the cheers from Italy’s espresso-ready dugout all the way to Nettuno.
“Coming here on a big stage, you want to be able to perform,” Lopez said. “I think I can speak for everyone else, ‘All eyes are on us.’ This is one of the biggest stages in baseball other than the World Series. When you’re put in a big situation, whether there’s a guy on, whether you can do something for the team, you wanna deliver.”
Those were all the runs Piazza’s squad needed. A line of pitchers, including, of course, LaSorsa, held down Team Netherlands’ dangerous lineup. Matt Harvey struck out three and gave up a run over four strong innings, Andre Pallante, LaSorsa and Vinny Nottili tossed one more apiece and a combination of Matt Festa and Mitchell Stumpo closed things out in the eighth and ninth.
“Our pitching staff tonight just over-delivered,” Piazza said. “What can you say about Matt [Harvey]? He wanted the ball and wanted to go back out there. What can you say about Joe? Wow, I mean, that’s a special moment.”
“I was able to do the job for my team and able to upheld what I was expected of,” LaSorsa said. “I’m really glad I was able to leave it all out there, because I know that’s what all these other guys were doing.”
This is Italy’s first trip to the quarterfinals since their Cinderella run in 2013 — they’ll likely face Japan in the Tokyo Dome, a very tough matchup in front of 55,000 screaming fans. But for now, Italy will enjoy the moment and relish in what they’ve done.
“I can’t give our guys enough credit,” Piazza said. “They just didn’t want to go home. I think collectively we looked at each other and were like, ‘We wanna keep going.’ And so we did.”