WASHINGTON — Team USA stands one win away from playing for the World Baseball Classic championship, and Tanner Roark of the Washington Nationals is the man who must pitch them there.
Squaring off against Japan Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, Roark — who’s made three MLB postseason appearances — calls the upcoming game the biggest of his career.
“So far, yes,” Roark answered when asked of the game’s importance, according to Federal Baseball. “I’d say so, with the single-elimination and everything. But go out there and leave it all out on the field.”
As Roark notes, after advancing through each pool round — with a 4-2 record overall — the U.S. has entered the single-elimination stage of the tournament. Outside of the U.S. and Japan, only the Netherlands and undefeated Puerto Rico remain.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker has spoken with Team USA manager Jim Leyland, and Nats pitching coach Mike Maddux to Roark, The Post’s Chelsea Janes reports, and they all have a mutual understanding that Roark will be on a pitch count Tuesday.
Roark has only made one appearance, which came in relief, so far through six games. He’s gotten the “short end of the stick,” Leyland acknowledged.
“We piggybacked him in a game, and he struggled a little bit. I think he threw 40 pitches,” Leyland said, also according to Federal Baseball, of Roark’s lone appearance, which came midway through a 7-5 loss to Dominican Republic on March 11. Roark allowed three runs on three hits, including a home run, and two walks over 1.1 innings. “I think he’s an outstanding pitcher. He’s gotten the short end of the stick a little bit so far, to be honest with you, the way things worked out.”
“But he deserves this start,” Leyland said. “There is no doubt in my mind about it. I feel great about it. He’s been a trooper. He signed up for this event, and I’m pitching him. I feel very, very comfortable about it.”
If Roark and Team USA get past Japan on Tuesday, they’ll meet the winner of Netherlands vs. Puerto Rico — to be played Monday at 9 p.m. — in the championship game Wednesday night.