Italy celebrates rare double walk-off

PHOENIX -- The fun thing about the World Baseball Classic is you see such interesting things. Like two walk-off victory celebrations in the same game.

That happened Friday because of the WBC mercy rule that ends a game if one team takes a 10-run lead after the seventh inning. And Italy appeared to do just that against Canada when, leading 11-4 in the eighth, Mike Costanzo hit a line drive down the Chase Field left-field line that was initially ruled a grand slam to put Italy up 15-4, trigger the rule and send the team onto the field to celebrate.

After reviewing the replay, however, the umpires ruled the ball was a ground-rule double that reduced Italy's lead to nine runs. Thus, the game continued -- for one more batter. Mario Chiarini followed with a single that gave the Italians a 10-run lead and led to their second walk-off celebration.

Team Italy first baseman Chris Colabello said he's never seen such a double walk-off. "But I would rather celebrate twice than not at all."

Actually, it was Italy's third celebration in just under 24 hours. Thursday afternoon, Italy rallied in the ninth inning to beat Sergio Romo and Mexico. Then they mercy-ruled Canada, 14-4. With those two victories, Italy likely will advance to next week's second round in Miami unless three teams finish the round robin pool tied with 2-1 records and Italy loses the run-differential tiebreaker formula.

What with the Italian soccer season and the papal vote, Italy's WBC success probably won't generate large headlines back home. At least not yet. "Probably we have to win the tournament," Chiarini said with a laugh.

Chiarini, who played rookie ball with the Mariners in 2000, was one of three Italian natives in their country's lineup Friday. The other 11 players who appeared in the game are North Americans of Italian descent. You can argue whether being the son, grandson or even the great-grandson of an Italian native should be sufficient qualifications for representing a country in the WBC, but those are the rules. And since a major goal is to grow baseball internationally, there is logic in doing so until the sport grows enough to produce an entire roster of top home-grown players.

"I think they're a better team this year, I really do," said Canada manager Ernie Whitt, whose team lost to Italy in 2009 as well. "You look at it, they beat Mexico, they mercied us. They're definitely a better team than what they were in 2009, so that tells me their program is growing, and hats off to them."

Besides, the North American Italians certainly appreciate representing the country of their ancestors. "I wear this Italian jersey with a lot of pride," Colabello said. "I'm very thankful for the opportunity to do this."

And well he should. Italians live and die for soccer, but Colabello lives because of baseball. Colabello's father, Lou, met his mother while pitching in Italy for its national baseball team. In other words, Chris would not exist had Lou not had a good arm, though not too good of an arm.

"My dad was hoping to get drafted out of school but nothing happened," said Colabello, who played Double-A ball for the Twins' organization last year after seven seasons in independent leagues. "Then he got a call from a friend he had played high school baseball against, and he told him, 'Would you like to play baseball in Italy?' He did like a double take. 'Baseball in Italy?'"

Yes, there are Italians who play baseball (as well as North Americans of Italian descent). And they're showing the world. Next up: Team USA on Saturday evening.

"This is really cool. Probably the coolest thing I've experienced on a baseball field," Colabello said.