Great Britain faced Nicaragua this evening for the second time in the 2009 Baseball World Cup and came up short once more. Team GB ran them closer this time, losing 4-1 compared to the 10-0 drubbing in the first round, but they were flummoxed once again by the Nicaraguan pitcher whose name alone causes confusion.
Diego Garcia Sandino gets listed in the official accounts as Diego Sandino, but the pitcher prefers to go by Diego Garcia. The discrepancy had Eurosport2 commentator Paul Romanuk scratching his head at first, but it was the British hitters who ended the evening baffled by the pitcher.
Both teams entered the contest with 0-2 second round records and saw this as a chance to get a win on the board. Great Britain had their ace on the mound in Brian Essery and were given a boost when the lineups were announced. Nicaragua had decided to rest some of their best players for the game, including Jimmy Morales and Sandor Mayorga who both went deep twice in the previous encounter. It was a sure sign that Nicaragua felt they could beat Britain regardless and that fact alone should have given Team GB a sense that they were being taken lightly.
Nicaragua’s moves appeared to be justified when they took an early 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning. The frame was punctuated by some regrettably sloppy fielding. The score was already 1-0 when, with one out and runners on second and third, Mario Holman hit a sacrifice fly to left-fielder Matt McGraw. His throw back into the infield was sensibly cut off, knowing that the run would score regardless, and Sandor Guido was caught in between second and third needing to be put out to end the inning with minimal damage. However, the ball was dropped at second, allowing Guido to hustle his way into third. Adolfo Matamoros then placed a bunt towards first baseman Aeden McQueary and confusion resulted in no one covering the bag. Guido was allowed to come home on the play and 2-0 had needlessly become 3-0.
Great Britain hit back in the bottom of the inning when Chris Falls brought Sam Wiley home on a fielder’s choice to make it 3-1. They followed this positive play with a great defensive effort to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the third inning. Aeden McQueary got the force at first and then saw that Edgar Lopez was heading for home. His quick throw beat him there and catcher Chris Berset applied the tag to complete the double-play and end the inning. It was the sort of momentum-changing moment that can lift a whole team and GB’s starter Brian Essery was certainly inspired by it.
Britain’s ace returned to the mound in the top of the fourth inning and retired the Nicaraguan batters in order. He repeated the trick in the fifth and sixth innings before a run of eleven straight batters retired was ended by a lead-off single by Guido in the seventh. He would eventually make it home for the second time in the game to increase Nicaragua’s lead to 4-1, although the improved defense was displayed yet again when second baseman Chris Falls made a smart play on a high-chopper to end the inning.
Tom Bolesko relieved Essery in the eighth inning and continued from where he had so impressively left off against Croatia in striking out three of the first four batters he faced. He got out of some trouble in the ninth to keep Nicaragua from extending their lead, but Great Britain still trailed by three as they headed into the bottom of the ninth inning.
The solid pitching and defensive effort counted for naught because the batters simply couldn’t get anywhere against Nicaragua’s starter. They had their chances early on, but hit into inning-ending double plays in the first and third innings. Right-fielder Sam Wiley then reached first to lead off the bottom of the fourth with a hit-by-pitch and might have got around to score on a Berset scorcher to centre had Morales not made a great diving catch. Wiley had to retreat to first and was caught on a pitch-out when he next tried to advance attempting to steal second.
From there, Garcia settled down and Great Britain couldn’t find a way to knock him off course, despite having seen him at first hand for six innings in the previous game between the two sides. It was a case of ‘how do you solve a problem like Garcia?’ and the answer was we didn’t know. He pitched a great ballgame (nine innings pitched, five hits, one walk, one unearned run) and sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the opposition for out-playing you on a given day.
So Great Britain fell to their third straight defeat, but tomorrow gives us another chance to get a second round win live on Eurosport2. It doesn’t get any easier as our opponents will be Puerto Rico. That’s what the World Cup is all about though: competing against the best international teams out there. First pitch is 12.00 BST.
Further reading: Game report from the Great Britain baseball team site.