By Gabriel Fidler, special reporter to Mister-Baseball.com
BROOKLYN, New York – Great Britain showed that it will be a force to be reckoned with at the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Brooklyn, taking a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh against Israel before falling 5-2.
Both sides featured impressive pitching performances, with Britain’s Michael Roth facing off against longtime major leaguer Jason Marquis. Roth was fresh off a strong campaign for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock and looked every bit like a pitcher who earned a big league callup during a 11-5, 2.97 ERA season. Marquis, on the other hand, toed the rubber in 15 major league seasons, winning 124 games along the way.
It was zeroes in the opening frame for both sides, before Britain struck first in the top of the second against Marquis. Champ Stuart led off with a double into the left field corner and came home two batters later on a RBI-single from Todd Isaacs. The inning would end after Isaacs swiped second and attempted to bag third, as Israel catcher Ryan Lavarnway gunned him down.
Team Israel would quickly bounce back in the bottom half of the inning as Cody Decker ripped a two-bagger into left-center to start things off. Decker, most recently in the Red Sox organization, moved to third on a grounder and came home a batter later. The run scored after Rhett Wiseman tapped a ball to first, and Britain’s Jordan Serena throw home was too late to catch Decker. Roth would end the frame with a nifty pickoff of Wiseman and a flyout.
The game would remained tied through the sixth, with Marquis going three innings, allowing him to return on the final day due to his low pitch count, a notable feature of the World Baseball Classic. The veteran gave up a run on two hits and a walk, striking out one.
Stuart put Roth in line for the victory with his third hit of the game to lead off the seventh, stroking another double and scampering to third on a wild pitch. Isaacs would again plate Stuart, this time with a sacrifice fly, and Britain turned the game over to the bullpen for the bottom of the seventh.
Manager Liam Carroll went to Vaughan Harris, and the move changed the tone of the game quickly as Wiseman reached on an infield single that Harris knocked down, but bounced away on the artificial turf. Scott Burcham followed with a double to put two on, and Mike Meyers plated a run with a sacrifice fly. A batter later, Zach Borenstein drove in Burcham with a single to right, and Harris was yanked after a walk to Lavarnway.
Nolan Bond, who played this year for the University of Houston, relieved Harris, promptly loading the bases on a base on balls to Nate Freiman after starting him on an 0-2 count. Ike Davis, a hometown favourite after a productive few years with the New York Mets, stepped up to pinch hit and, after going down 0-2, fought back with an eight-pitch RBI-single for the inning’s third run.
“Pinch hitting is never easy,” noted Davis. “I had to stay in there and keep fouling pitches off, and I finally got a pitch I could handle.”
The hit roused the raucous Israel fans even louder, and a batter later, they were rewarded with their final run of the game on a sacrifice fly from Decker that Britain’s leftfielder Reshard Munroe leaped to catch against the left field wall.
Now facing a three-run deficit, Europe’s last hope for a third team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic had to face Craig Breslow, best known for his relief work for the 2013 World Series champion Red Sox. After two quick outs, Britain put two on against the lefty specialist via a hit and a walk, but Ryan Sherriff came in and induced a groundball to get out of the jam.
Southampton Mustangs’ hurler Rei Martínez tossed a scoreless ninth for Britain, punctuating the biggest appearance of his career with back-to-back strikeouts of recent major leaguers Freiman and Davis. Brad Goldberg then entered to slam the door for Israel.
Serena had other ideas, working a ten-pitch walk to start things, clapping his hands and cheering the British bench on his way to first. Isaacs continued his eye-catching night with a line drive that just dropped fair along the first base line, rolling into the corner for a two-base knock.
Israel pitching coach Andrew Lorraine came out to settle down his pitcher, a White Sox farmhand, and the move worked marvels as a clearly refocused Goldberg set to work. From then on, it was 1-2-3, as Goldberg stifled the rally, finishing with two Ks to earn his first save in international play.
The win went to Breslow (1-0), who threw a scoreless inning and worked around two hits and a walk, striking out two. Josh Zeid, who followed Marquis on the hill, was electric for Israel, striking out six in 3 2/3 frames, allowing a run on only two hits.
Marquis, easily the most seasoned veteran in the qualifier, explained his early exit after the game.
“I could have gone a little deeper in the game had they needed me to, but with the rules about pitch counts, this way they could save me for Sunday.”
Marquis, who did not pitch this year, continued, “It was nice to be in a competitive atmosphere again. Every game I’ve played I’ve had jitters and today was no different. I had good command of my fastball, and my changeup and splitter weren’t as sharp, which I expected. I felt good overall.”
Roth, meanwhile, turned in one of the best pitching efforts in recent British history, sailing through six frames. The southpaw scattered six hits and did not allow a free pass, striking out four. The loss went to Harris (0-1), who lasted only a third of an inning.
“The unfortunate thing about national team baseball is the pitch count,” commented a clearly frustrated Roth. “We could have lost in the seventh inning with me out there as well, but it’s a shame that we’re professional baseball players with Little League rules. I’m 26, and it’s my job to throw a baseball, so I didn’t want to come out.”
“Michael threw a great game today, but I’m most impressed with his passion and with the team’s. I like what I’ve seen out of all of these guys and thought it was a world-class performance,” remarked Carroll. “Champ [Stuart] really commands the outfield and Todd Isaacs really impressed with his advanced approach.”
Stuart had three of Britain’s seven hits and scored both of its runs, with Isaacs collecting a brace of hits and two RBIs. On the other side of the ledger, Lavarnway was 3-for-4 with a walk and Zach Borentstein had two more of Israel’s 11 hits.
Both teams commented after the game about how much it meant to play for national pride, with Zeid and Decker in particular discussing the effect of the game on Israel.
“There has been a 30 percent increase in participation in Israel since the last World Baseball Classic,” observed Decker. “Who knows how that will rise if we keep doing what we’re doing?”
“It’s all about raising awareness,” chimed in Zeid. “If we keep going out there, the support will be there, as you can see from the fans tonight.
Britain’s skipper had much the same to say, noting the growth of the game. “The aspiration is created [through games like this], and through the players buying into our culture. The domestic guys really help with that—it’s great for someone to be able to say, ‘I was practicing with this guy in Coventry, and now he’s on television!’”
The win for Israel will see them contest Brazil, also winners on day one, at 5 p.m. GMT at MCU Park, while Great Britain will tangle with Pakistan at midnight. Games can be viewed at http://www.worldbaseballclassic.com, and Mister Baseball will have all the news at the end of play.