With big league stars on both sides and national pride at stake, the United States and Canada gave their World Baseball Classic opener an October feel.
Adam Dunn and Brian McCann each hit a two-run homer, and Team USA held off feisty Canada 6-5 on Saturday to avenge a surprising loss three years ago.
"This is a playoff atmosphere," U.S. pitcher Jake Peavy said. "Everything is on the line, you're doing everything you can to win and advance in this tournament, and playing for your country just takes that through the roof. It's as good an atmosphere as it gets, I believe."
Kevin Youkilis added a solo shot and J.J. Putz closed it out in a nervous ninth inning for Team USA, which was upset by Canada in the inaugural WBC.
Despite a roster loaded with major league All-Stars, that U.S. squad stumbled to a disappointing eighth-place finish -- a big reason this club has talked about taking back America's game.
The intensity was evident. A fired-up McCann yelled and embraced Putz near the mound after the New York Mets reliever stranded the potential tying run at second base when Jason Bay flied out.
"It was unbelievable," Putz said. "That was definitely the loudest crowd I've ever been a part of. I haven't pitched in the playoffs, so this is what I think playoff baseball would seem like. It was awesome out there."
Jimmy Rollins, fresh off Philadelphia's 2008 World Series title, said beating Canada felt like winning the opener of a postseason series.
"Out here it was opening day, but with the excitement and the importance of getting off to a good start, you could compare that to Game 1 of a World Series," he said. "You want to get that first win out of the way and then you can take a deep breath."
LaTroy Hawkins worked a scoreless inning for the win and Putz earned the save after allowing Joey Votto's broken-bat RBI double in the ninth that cut it to 6-5 with one out. Putz then retired Justin Morneau on a grounder and got Bay on a fly to right.
"I just tried to get ahead of him and we were able to," Putz said. "We tried to get him to chase some sliders and he laid off a couple of good ones. With (Matt) Stairs sitting on deck, he's a guy that I've had some trouble with in the past, so I really wanted to focus in and try to get Bay to end the game."
Watching the ninth inning from the dugout after going 2-for-3, Derek Jeter acknowledged feeling tense.
"It was one of those situations where you're on the edge of your seat," Jeter said. "It's a lot more nerve-racking watching, I think, than it is playing."
Votto and Russell Martin each hit a solo homer for Canada, but it wasn't enough for the hosts to repeat their 8-6 win over the U.S. in the opening round of the 2006 tournament.
"They're definitely the team to beat," Martin said. "It's the American pastime and it's their game, but we're getting better and better."
Votto, born and raised in suburban Toronto, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs before a lively crowd of 42,314.
"I can't see, if you're a baseball fan, how you can't get into this tournament," Peavy said.
The U.S. can advance to the second round with a victory in its next game, Sunday night against the winner of Saturday's late game between Italy and Venezuela. Canada will play the loser of the Italy-Venezuela game on Monday night, hoping to avoid elimination in Group C.
Peavy lasted three innings, allowing two runs and two hits. He walked three and struck out four.
"I felt like I got a lot accomplished today," he said. "I felt like I had a lot of good pitches. I didn't have any kind of breaking ball, which made it difficult to put guys away."
Canadian right-hander Mike Johnson gave up four runs and four hits in four innings. He walked three and struck out three.
Canada opened the scoring in the first when Martin walked, went to third on Votto's single and scored on Morneau's fielder's choice.
Bay walked and Matt Stairs was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Peavy struck out Mark Teahen to end the inning.
"In the first inning I maybe was trying to do a little more than I can at this time of year," Peavy said. "I just toned it down a little bit and felt like I made a lot of good pitches after I settled down."
The U.S. tied it in the second on McCann's sacrifice fly.
Votto homered into the second deck in right-center in the third, but Canada's lead was short-lived.
Youkilis tied it with a homer to right to begin the fourth. Dunn followed with a walk and, one out later, McCann drilled the first pitch he saw into the U.S. bullpen in right.
Canada got one back in the sixth when Bay scored on Joel Hanrahan's wild pitch, but Dunn answered in the bottom half with a two-run drive to left-center.
Martin homered off Scot Shields in the seventh, but Stairs struck out with runners at first and second to end the inning.
Rollins pinch ran after Jeter's leadoff single in the fifth, but was later thrown out trying to steal second.
Hall of Fame manager and WBC ambassador Tommy Lasorda threw out the first pitch.
Votto has three hits in three career at-bats against Peavy.
The U.S. left the bases loaded in the seventh and eighth.
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