(Sports Network) - Team Canada will face the upstart team from Italy this afternoon when they play their first game in round-robin action of the World Baseball Classic
Canada has failed to get out of the first round in the first two Classics and lost to Italy in the last event. However, Ernie Whitt's club is loaded this time around with former MLB MVPs Joey Votto and Justin Morneau on the roster, as well as closer John Axford, up-and-coming outfielder Michael Saunders and top prospect Jameson Taillon.
"It's the same cast of characters as it's been for national tournaments of years past, which makes it a close-knit group," Morneau said of the current Team Canada roster. "That helps us stay calm during pressure situations."
Team Canada, though, took a bit of a hit on Thursday when it was announced that Brett Lawrie would miss the tournament with a rib cage strain.
Despite the poor showings at the two previous WBC, Canadian baseball is on the uptick, as the team finished third in the 2011 World Cup and won gold at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
Meanwhile, Italy stunned Mexico in its opener on Thursday, as it rallied with two runs in the top of the ninth and Jason Grilli escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning to close out a 6-5 win.
Sergio Romo (0-1) was tasked with protecting a 5-4 Mexico lead, but after a pinch-hitting Lorenzo Avagnina grounded out to begin the ninth, Nick Punto ripped a double and Chris Denorfia followed with a single.
Anthony Rizzo then launched a fly ball that popped out of left fielder Edgar Gonzalez's glove and was ruled a double, allowing both runners to score.
Italy's Nick Pugliese (1-0) didn't allow a hit over 1 1/3 innings to earn the win.
Alex Liddi and Mike Costanzo each hit RBI singles off Mexico starter Rodrigo Lopez in the first inning.
"Now (Friday is) another day", said Liddi, who is the first Italian-born and developed player to appear in the major leagues. "We've got to play Canada again. So it's a good start, but it's not over yet."