GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Vinnie Pestano doesn’t have a problem with taking responsibility. So he didn’t think beating himself up over his role in Team USA’s 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic was over the top.
Was it Pestano’s fault that the U.S. lost the game Friday night and was eliminated from the tournament? Totally, according to the Indians’ setup man.
Not many minutes after the game ended, Pestano tweeted out two messages:
• “I choked on the biggest stage of my career. I let a lot of people down tonight. This is something I cared deeply about and it still sticks with me.”
• “Being someone who prides himself on pitching in big moments, this was unacceptable. Gotta learn from it and be better for it in the future.”
By the tone of those tweets, you’d have thought Pestano kidnapped U.S. manager Joe Torre plus key offensive pieces Joe Mauer and Ryan Braun.
Actually, it was worse, from Pestano’s perspective. With the U.S. trailing 1-0 and a runner on first with two outs in the sixth, Pestano gave up two hits and two walks, giving Puerto Rico a 4-0 lead.
“Putting our team in that position with that deficit, I deserve 100 percent of the blame,” Pestano said.
Pestano didn’t choose to tweet his feelings merely because social media is his generation’s preferred communications tool.
“There are no media allowed in the clubhouse,” he said. “Without an outlet, Twitter was my only outlet, so I chose to do that.”
Instead of a mass of reporters in each clubhouse, officials select the manager and a few players to answer questions in an interview room.
Was Pestano too hard on himself?
“No, not at all,’’ he said. “You have to put the blame where the blame is due. There were two outs, one guy on base. If I had gone out and given up four straight hits, I’d have to say they were just better than me.
“But I walked two guys. That’s what makes it tough to swallow, not letting my defense have a chance to make a play. It’s going to sting for little. It’s not going away easy. This was not a tuneup for the season. It probably will go down as one of the top three games in my career that went bad.”
Pestano made no secret of how badly he wanted to participate in WBC.
“I had a tremendous time with it,” he said. “I’d love to be part of it again. It’s upsetting that it’s four years away. I wish the result had been different, but it was a great experience.”
Being part of a losing effort in an elimination game on the international stage moved him deeply, but Pestano said he won’t have a problem shaking off the defeat and moving on.
“It’s not going to carry over into other games,” he said. “Being a relief pitcher, you know you have to let things go. But to come in today smiling and being chipper – it’s not time for that yet.”
The United States hasn’t come close to winning any of the three WBC tournaments, despite filling its roster with major-league players.
“After three times, you can see how far the rest of the world has come,” Pestano said.
Because baseball is an American game, the U.S. is every country’s favorite target.
“I don’t know if we had a crowd that was more for us than against us,” Pestano said. “Even in Phoenix we were outnumbered in the stands. But that’s fine, it’s fun to play in a hostile environment with everybody against you.”
American fans don’t usually show the extreme passion seen in games involving the Dominican Republic, Venezuela or Puerto Rico. That doesn’t mean U.S. players are nonchalant about playing for their country.
“We don’t show emotion so blatantly,” Pestano said. “But every guy in that clubhouse wanted to win. The U.S. is in the kind of situation where if we lose, it’s a disappointment and if we win, that’s what we’re supposed to do.
“It’s a volunteer army. Some people chose not to represent, but when you’re in that locker room, you’re enthused to be representing your country.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.