Despite all the mathematical permutations of what could happen during the remaining two days of round-robin pool play, things have become relatively semplice for Italy.
Manager Marco Mazzieri's club is 2-0, and if it conquers the United States on Saturday, it will move on to the second round of the Classic, set for Marlins Park. And even if Italy loses that game, it will still be 2-1 and a contender to advance depending on the other teams' results and run-differential totals.
"There's no place for egos in this group, and that's what I was looking for," Mazzieri said. "That's what I'm getting. We're very happy about it. And that was the idea.
"I believe a lot in energy, positive energy, and I just try to direct that energy in one direction. And these guys have been outstanding."
Following Italy's stirring 6-5 win over favored Mexico on Thursday, Mazzieri and several members of the team insisted that they were being disrespected by pundits and that they had plans on making it all the way to the final round in San Francisco.
On Friday, playing a team with two former MVPs in Joey Votto and Justin Morneau, the Italians lived up to their own billing once again. Chris Colabello's three-run home run capped off a key four-run third inning that gave Italy a comfortable lead, and when things got tense in the seventh after Canada cut the lead to 6-4 on a bases-loaded single by Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders, Italy answered right back.
Colabello, who played for Minnesota's Double-A club last year, got things started in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out single, Mike Costanzo (Nationals) walked, Mario Chiarini singled in a run and Twins catcher Drew Butera gave Italy all the insurance it would need with a two-run double that made it 9-4.
Italy poured it on in the eighth, scoring six more runs to end it early. It appeared that the game was over via the 10-run rule when Costanzo's long fly ball to left field with the bases loaded was ruled a grand slam, but after an instant-replay review, the umpires reversed it and ruled it a two-run ground-rule double to make it 13-4. That became a mere footnote when the next batter, Chiarini, hit what ended up being a walk-off RBI single.
Italy got another good effort from a starting pitcher, with Alex Maestri of the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan going three innings and giving up one run while striking out three. Chris Cooper, a former Indians Minor Leaguer, did well in relief, also giving up one run in three innings. Former big leaguer Dan Serafini gave up two runs in the seventh, but former Major Leaguer Brian Sweeney struck out pinch-hitter Tim Smith to escape that jam.
"I know my team has a great lineup, so I knew I only had to keep the game there and have somebody else come in and relieve for me," Maestri said. "And I knew they were going to do a good job, too."
Meanwhile, Italy's bats were making enough noise to fill up the ballpark with a 17-hit outburst.
Only one player on the team, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, didn't get a hit, and he worked two walks, scored two runs and drove in another with an RBI groundout in the first inning.
Colabello went 4-for-5 with four RBIs, Chiarini had two hits and three RBIs, Alex Liddi of the Mariners had another big game with two hits and an RBI, Nick Punto (Dodgers) and Chris Denorfia (Padres) had two hits apiece and Butera added two RBIs.
"It's a pretty outstanding feeling," Colabello said. "It's just a tremendous group of people. I give a lot of credit to [Mazzieri] for putting the right pieces together, and it's awesome to be a part of. I couldn't be more ecstatic. A loss for words almost is a good way to put it."
Canada, which didn't make it out of the first round of the previous Classic, in 2009, and had to qualify for entry into this year's tournament, will have to rally over the next two days to avoid suffering the same fate.
"Every time we got close, they came back the next inning and put some runs on the board," Canada manager Ernie Whitt said. "In a game of baseball, you have to have some shutdown innings, and we weren't able to do that.
"We'll show up and we'll play [Saturday vs. Mexico]. That's all can I say. We have to pitch better, we have to get some more timely hits, and go from there."