Great Britain lost 9-7 to Japan in their opening game of the 2009 Baseball World Cup in Zagreb today, despite staging an incredible ninth-inning rally. The Brits blasted five runs in the final frame, three of which coming on a Sam Wiley home run, to pull within two runs and had the bases loaded when Richard Klijn struck out to end the game.
It was a valiant effort, one that creates frustration and hope in equal measure. Kljin’s game-ending whiff was the third time that GB failed to take advantage of having runners on every base and the team also committed three errors in the field. Sharper play in those situations could have seen Great Britain earn a stunning victory over their more-fancied rivals. Instead, the team will rue the missed opportunities.
However, the fact that they had the chances to beat a good Japanese team should give them great confidence heading into tomorrow’s clash with Nicaragua.
Japan took an early lead and, despite the late scare, never relinquished it. Sam Whitehead was selected to pitch the opening game by GB’s head coach Stephan Rapaglia and he settled into the game by getting two fly outs. An error by first baseman Aeden McQueary extended the inning, but another fly out with two men on enabled Whitehead to post a ‘0’ on the scoreboard.
Unfortunately that trend didn’t continue into the second inning. Another error by McQueary allowed second baseman Kenichi Yokoyama to score the first run of the game before Yoshinobu Kotegawa made it 3-0 with a two-run homer.
Great Britain had a great chance to cut into that lead in the fourth inning. The bases were loaded for Tim Collins with one out and he lifted a pitch from Rikiya Chikugawa, who had relieved starter Hiroyuki Kamegawa after three innings, out to left field. Kotegawa was able to track it down and catcher Chris Berset decided to test the home run-hitter’s arm. The aggressive play didn’t pay off as Berset was tagged out at the plate for an inning-ending 7-2 double play.
Japan punished Britain’s inability to capitalize on getting men on base by doubling their lead in the fifth inning. Craig Pycock had pitched a three-up, three-down fourth inning in relief of Whitehead but got into trouble in the fifth. With runners on the corners, a fielding error, this time by Collins, once again allowed a run to score. Tom Boleska took over from Pycock and gave up a two-run single to the first batter he faced, Yokoyama, to make it 6-0 to Japan.
Great Britain’s fighting spirit began to show through in the sixth inning. On a 1-1 count and with two outs, Chris Falls cracked a double into right-centre to bring home Matt McGraw and Chris Berset. However Japan got those two runs back in the eighth inning. Tom Stack-Babich, listed as an outfielder in GB’s squad, gave up a four-pitch walk to lead off the inning and then hit the second batter. Two runs would ultimately score before another HBP saw Stephen Spragg enter the contest to strike out Hisayoshi Chono.
Great Britain let another bases-loaded situation pass them by in the eighth, Falls and Collins striking out to leave McGraw, Berset and Wiley stranded. The frustration mounted as Japan added an insurance run in the top of the ninth off Paul Waterman to make it 9-2. When Evan Romanchuk swung through strike three by Eiichi Hirai, after Brad Marcelino had struck out to begin the bottom of the ninth, it looked like the game was as good as over.
However, the substitute catcher Ryo Saeki couldn’t handle the ball and Romanchuk hustled down the first-base line to make it aboard on a wild pitch. That seemingly insignificant break started an incredible inning.
The nineteen-year old Richard Klijn took Romanchuck’s place on first and McQueary took out his error-fuelled frustration on a pitch to put runners on first and second. Klijn’s pace allowed him to get home on a Brant Ust single and then Sam Wiley made it 9-6 with one dramatic swing of the bat.
Fate now appeared to be on Britain’s side as a game-ending strikeout of Collins was once again negated by the ball eluding the catcher. Berset scored on the wild pitch and Marcelino singled on his second plate appearance in the inning to load the bases for Klijn. With the score now at 9-7, a hit would have probably tied the game, but it wasn’t to be. Hirai made him flail at a 1-2 pitch to record his fourth strikeout of an astonishing final frame.
The unlikeliest of comebacks therefore fell short, but few could fail to be impressed by the character and fight showed by the British team. The 4-7 hitters (Wiley, Berset, McGraw and Falls) went a combined 7-for-15 with 5 walks and while Rapaglia will be looking for improvement in some areas, batting with runners in scoring position and cutting out the errors, he will also be proud of his team’s performance.
A full-game report will also be appearing on the Great Britain Baseball website.
Frustration for fans
Not much more could have gone wrong with Britain’s opening game when it came to the British-based fan experience. We began with the official World Cup website stating an incorrect start time for the game last night, leaving most of us unsure as to whether the game would be at 9.30 BST or 15.30 until it was corrected early this morning
In practice it didn’t make a huge amount of difference because we weren’t able to follow the game live in any case. The GameTracker function that looked so promising during yesterday’s games was not in operation. It simply sat there stating that it would begin after the first pitch, but it never did and no update was provided to say there was a technical problem. @BSUK and @mafeel helpfully provided updates via Twitter to bridge the gap.
You can now replay the game on the GameTracker and watching all of the neat animations makes it all the more annoying that we couldn’t see it at the time. It really is a fun way to follow the action, so let’s hope it will be working live tomorrow morning.
Great Britain play Nicaragaua with first pitch set for 9.30 BST (10.30 local time).