Great Britain’s 2010 European Championship came to a disappointing end yesterday in Neuenburg, Germany. Pat Doyle’s men narrowly lost their final First Round game 4-3 to Greece in ten innings. The result means Great Britain will finish fourth in Group B, just outside the top three places that lead to qualification for the Second Round.
Having beaten Spain 5-1 on Monday to keep their Second Round hopes alive, Team GB’s game against Greece was their second ‘must win’ contest in two days. It looked like they would make it two wins from two, and earn a 3-2 tournament record, when Matt McGraw gave GB a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth inning. The outfielder, who went 4-for-6 in the game, doubled to lead off the inning, advanced to third on a wild pitch and then came around with the go-ahead run when Evan Romanchuk reached on a fielder’s choice.
However, Greece have surprised many with their confident play so far in the tournament and they hit straight back in the bottom of the frame. Alex Smith, who gave up two runs in seven innings, walked the lead-off batter James Demetral and Greece’s second baseman came around to level the game again at 2-2 despite the best efforts of reliever Stephen Spragg.
A scoreless ninth inning sent the game into extra innings and brought into play the International Baseball Federation’s controversial ‘extra inning’ rules. Rather than continue playing by the standard rules until a winner emerges, base-runners are placed on first and second in an apparent effort to bring games to a swifter conclusion.
Here at BaseballGB, Joe Gray wrote a considered article analysing what impact the extra innings rule, originally designed to apply from the eleventh inning rather than the tenth, might have when it was first trialled back in July 2008. When it came to considering what tactics to employ, Joe arrived at the following conclusion:
“While teams might have played for one run in the top half of a traditional extra inning, this may not be as beneficial an approach under the new rule, since the chance that the team batting second will score more than a run is increased. For this reason, I think that sensible teams should not necessarily employ the sacrifice bunt in the top half of the 11th inning (or the top half of a later inning)”
On this occasion, Great Britain decided otherwise. With Chris Falls and Rich Klijn elected as the base-runners, Sam Whitehead tried to bunt them over (according to the play-by-play account, at least) and subsequently struck out. Matt McGraw redeemed the situation somewhat by loading the bases with a bunt-hit and Sam Wiley then hit a sacrifice fly to left field which allowed Falls to score the go-ahead run. However Romanchuk flied out to end the inning, leaving the team in Germany, and fans back home nervously following the Twitter updates, wondering if one run would be enough.
The answer was ‘no’.
Greece took the same approach as Team GB, opting to make the lead-off batter sacrifice the runners over. They got the bunt down cleanly and manager Pat Doyle responded by directing Spragg to intentionally walk the next batter to load the bases. The plan then came unstuck when Spragg walked the next batter, Peter Maestrales, to allow Greece to level the game 3-3 and the final blow was delivered two pitches later when Constant Panagotacos was able to score the game-winning run on a ground ball to the shortstop Whitehead.
The loss means that Great Britain will finish the first round with a 2-3 record and even though Croatia, Greece, Italy and Sweden all still have one more game to play today due to rainouts earlier in the tournament, we already know that’s not going to be enough to make it into the top three. Sweden are currently in third place with a 2-2 record; however, even if they lose their game against Italy and also end up with a 2-3 record, they will finish ahead of Team GB on the first tie-breaker rule: the result between the two teams (a 4-1 win for Sweden on Saturday).
It was always going to be difficult for Great Britain to repeat their silver-medal showing from the 2007 Euros, but the team undoubtedly will be disappointed not to make it into the Second Round, not least because they will miss out by such a slim margin. They had their opportunities to beat Greece and had they done so, due to slightly better execution in key moments or even just a well-timed slice of luck, then all the pressure would have been on Sweden to beat the 4-0 Italians today. You would back Italy to win the game considering how well they are playing and that result would have been enough to see Great Britain through had they won against Greece.
But every team can look back at a tournament and consider ‘what ifs’ and ‘what might have beens’. While the team, ably led by Pat Doyle and General Manager Jason Greenberg, played with pride and gave their all to the cause, this time it just wasn’t meant to be.
Great Britain 3 – 4 Greece (10): Box score and play-by-play