The Great Britain Senior baseball team faces an uphill battle to qualify for the second round of the 2010 European Championships after defeats to Sweden and Italy over the weekend.
Team GB’s campaign began positively with a 10-1 win over Croatia on Friday and they headed into their game against Sweden on Saturday full of confidence; however, the offence that had worked so well the day before was shut down by Sweden’s starting pitcher Joakim Klasson as Great Britain were defeated 4-1.
Klasson held Great Britain scoreless through the first eight innings, getting a key double-play in the sixth inning when Matt McGraw grounded out to the third baseman with two on and no outs, and escaping unscathed from a bases-loaded situation in the seventh when Michael Trask flied out to end the inning.
Sweden were leading 4-0 at that point. Great Britain’s starting pitcher Brian Essery balked home Sweden’s opening run in the second inning, gave up two runs on four hits in the third inning and then saw Tony Dermendziev come home on a fielding error by third baseman Michael Johnson in the fifth inning. Essery pitched seven innings in total, conceding eight hits and four runs. It wasn’t quite the start Essery may have wanted, but he battled all the way and kept the game close.
Unfortunately, the offence couldn’t take full advantage of the opportunities they created, grounding into five double-plays in total. They did break up the shut-out attempt in the bottom of the ninth when Trask earned a walk with the bases loaded, but Rich Klijn then grounded out to end the game with three base-runners left stranded.
That result meant that Great Britain would head into back-to-back games against the two Group B favourites, Italy and Spain, with a 1-1 record rather than the ideal scenario of facing arguably their two toughest opponents with two wins already on the board.
The difficulties Great Britain face in qualifying from that position were made clear in Stuttgart on Sunday when Italy showed why they are one of the tournament favourites by beating Team GB 12-2 in a game called after seven innings due to the ten-run ‘mercy’ rule.
Italy went into the game on the back of two impressive victories over Spain (by a score of 9-1) and Greece (13-1 in 7 innings) and they quickly got out in front with three runs in the first inning off GB starter Mike Renery. Italy then doubled their lead by plating three runs in the third inning, two coming courtesy of a home run by veteran Jiminez Chapelli. Italy’s hitting coach, former Major League All-Star Mike Piazza, is clearly teaching his pupils well.
Italy’s pitching wasn’t doing badly either. Starter Cody Cillo held Great Britain hit-less through 3.2 innings before Sam Wiley broke up the no-hitter attempt in the fourth inning. Wiley went on to drive in Team GB’s only two runs in the seventh inning when he took a liking to the first pitch he saw from reliever Chris Di Roma and thumped it over the right field wall for a two-run homer. That still left Great Britain trailing by ten runs, 12-2, and Di Roma closed out the inning to bring the game to an early end.
It was a comprehensive win for Italy, but Pat Doyle and his coaching staff will look to take the positives from the defeat, not least of which being a three-up, three-down inning by the young left-handed pitcher Ted Gieschen.
Tomorrow’s game against Spain, moved from Heidenheim to Stuttgart, is basically a ‘must win’ affair for Great Britain. Spain’s form in their opening two games, a 9-1 loss to Italy and a narrow 7-6 win over Croatia, suggests that Team GB can get their tournament back on track if they perform to the best of their ability. A win tomorrow would set up a potentially decisive final game against Greece on Tuesday afternoon.
Great Britain 2 – 12 Italy: Box score and play-by-play,