TORONTO - With big league stars on both sides and national pride at stake, the United States and Canada gave their World Baseball Classic opener an October feel.
Adam Dunn and Brian McCann each hit a two-run homer, and Team USA held off feisty Canada 6-5 on Saturday to avenge a surprising loss three years ago.
"This is a playoff atmosphere," U.S. pitcher Jake Peavy said. "Everything is on the line, you're doing everything you can to win and advance in this tournament, and playing for your country just takes that through the roof. It's as good an atmosphere as it gets, I believe."
Kevin Youkilis added a solo shot and J.J. Putz closed it out in a nervous ninth inning for Team USA, which was upset by Canada in the inaugural WBC.
Despite a roster loaded with major league All-Stars, that U.S. squad stumbled to a disappointing eighth-place finish - a big reason this club has talked about taking back America's game.
The intensity was evident. A fired-up McCann yelled and embraced Putz near the mound after the New York Mets reliever stranded the potential tying run at second base when Jason Bay flied out.
"It was unbelievable," Putz said. "That was definitely the loudest crowd I've ever been a part of. I haven't pitched in the playoffs, so this is what I think playoff baseball would seem like. It was awesome out there."
Jimmy Rollins, fresh off Philadelphia's 2008 World Series title, said beating Canada felt like winning the opener of a postseason series.
"Out here it was opening day, but with the excitement and the importance of getting off to a good start, you could compare that to Game 1 of a World Series," he said. "You want to get that first win out of the way and then you can take a deep breath."
LaTroy Hawkins worked a scoreless inning for the win and Putz earned the save after allowing Joey Votto's broken-bat RBI double in the ninth that cut it to 6-5 with one out. Putz then retired Justin Morneau on a grounder and got Bay on a fly to right.
"I just tried to get ahead of him and we were able to," Putz said. "We tried to get him to chase some sliders and he laid off a couple of good ones. With (Matt) Stairs sitting on deck, he's a guy that I've had some trouble with in the past, so I really wanted to focus in and try to get Bay to end the game."
Watching the ninth inning from the dugout after going 2-for-3, Derek Jeter acknowledged feeling tense.
"It was one of those situations where you're on the edge of your seat," Jeter said. "It's a lot more nerve-racking watching, I think, than it is playing."