PHOENIX -- David Wright loves the World Baseball Classic, and on Saturday night, he proved once again that the tournament he has called "the most difficult in the world" loves him back.
Wright, the New York Mets star who played for the United States in the 2009 version of the event and is back at third base for the club this year, needed only one swing of the bat to change the fortunes of Team USA in the first round of Pool D play at Chase Field against Italy and possibly for the rest of the competition.
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The Americans didn't look good on Friday night, dropping their 2013 Classic opener to Mexico by the score of 5-2 and falling in a hole at 0-1, but on Saturday, Wright gave them the spark -- and, most important, the big hit -- they needed.
With the game tied at 2 against Italy, which had already qualified to move on to next week's second round in Miami, Wright strode to the plate with the bases loaded in the fifth inning against Italy pitcher Matt Torra and golfed a ball into the seats beyond the left-center-field wall.
The Americans were up, 6-2, which marked their first lead in the first two games of the Classic, and they went on to win by the same score. Wright made a little history, too, tallying the first grand slam for the United States in Classic play since Jason Varitek did it against Canada on March 8, 2006.
Now, the Americans play Canada on Sunday, and the winner will advance, while the loser is eliminated.
It's just how Wright wants it.
"I think that it's well-documented -- I really enjoy this tournament," Wright said. "I think it's a great tournament. I think it's only going to get bigger and better.
"When you put that USA jersey on, have you a bull's eye on your back, teams want to beat us. So it makes it a great atmosphere every time out. And I think all of us take a lot of pride in putting this uniform on, and we want to represent the country well. So any time we play a clean, crisp game like we played today, it's good for USA Baseball, and obviously it's good for our fans and good for the country. So I'm glad I could be a part of that."
Wright preferred to deflect praise for the victory, opting to cite the fact that starter Ryan Vogelsong's scoreless third and fourth innings and the fact that Team USA got the scoring going leading up to his pivotal at-bat brought the dugout to life.
But the actions of American manager Joe Torre and bench coach Larry Bowa told a different story. Wright's homer meant a lot for a team that was getting runners on base and not cashing them in. Wright cashed in all four, and it came at the perfect time.
"Bowa was just begging for a soft single," Torre said. "I was … I didn't say it, but I was hoping for more. But that was huge. You talk about just sort of being able to exhale. That was basically what that was, because we had been teasing ourselves for the last couple of days and all of a sudden we got one to bust it open.
"These guys, when we were in the clubhouse last night, it was dead silence last night. And this is a pretty determined group. They have only been with us for a short period of time, five days or so, but when you look in their eyes, they're pretty special."
And for Wright, playing for this team is special. So special that he did it in 2009, is doing it again this year, and talks like he'd like to do it in 2017 and beyond.
"It's emotional," Wright said. "You hear the 'USA' chants, you look up in the stands and you see the flags, you look in the dugout and you see 'USA' across the front of guys' chests and across the hats, and you get caught up in the game and you get a little emotional.
"And then I've experienced what it's like in the last WBC making it to the semifinals and how much fun that is, and it only gets better from here. And I want to experience that and more this time around."