Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mexico survives Czechs, 2-1, at WBC qualifier

Mexico plated two runs in the bottom of the first inning and the pitching made them hold as the hosts topped the Czech Republic, 2-1, Thursday night at the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in Mexicali.  The contest was much closer than expected, as the plucky Czechs held the Mexicans to just four hits on a night that put pitching under the spotlight on a patchy Estadio B-Air playing field.

After Alejandro Soto opened the game by striking out the first three Czech batters (all swinging), Esteban Quiroz and Adrian Gonzalez drew consecutive one-out walks off starter Marek Cervenka in the bottom of the frame.  Jesse Castillo singled up the middle to bring in Quiroz from second and move Gonzalez to third.  Agustin Murillo lofted a sacrifice fly to left that Gonzalez scored on to make it a 2-0 game.  Leo Heras then singled to put Murillo in scoring position but Erick Rodriguez popped out to second to end the threat.

From that point, the two sides traded zeroes into the eighth inning.  Working on a WBC-imposed pitch count limit, Soto gave up just one walk and no hits in three entradas for Mexico, striking out seven.  Mark Serrano replaced Soto and while not quite as lights-out, Serrano tossed three more scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk.  For his part, Cervanek settled down to blank the Mexicans in the second and third before giving way to Jan Novak, who tossed 3.2 innings of scoreless ball when he reached HIS pitch limit in the seventh.

Mexico loaded the bases with two out in that stanza but Castillo skied out to left to end the rally without a score.  Jake Sanchez came in from the bullpen to pitch the top of the eighth and gave up a homer to Matej Hema, who lofted a fly to right center that kept carrying until it plopped onto a walkway just beyond the railing atop the wall, bringing the score to 2-1.  After being set down in order in the bottom of the eighth Mexican manager Edgar Gonzalez sent out 34-year-old Oliver Perez to nail down the save in the ninth. Perez, who has been in camp with the Nationals this spring, delivered by turning in a 1-2-3 performance on just nine pitches to seal the deal for the Verdes.

In Thursday afternoon's qualifier opener, Reds prospect Alex Blandino's walkoff double in the bottom of the tenth inning gave Nicaragua a come-from-behind 5-4 win over Germany.  With runners on first and second, Blandino rapped an Enorbel Marquez delivery into deep center field just beyond the glove of Dominique Taylor.  Both runners came in to score with Rangers farmhand coming in from first barely under the tag of German catcher Bruce Maxwell with the winning run.

On Friday, the Czech Republic will take on Germany at 12:30PM PDT while Mexico battles Nicaragua in the 7:30PM PDT nightcap at La Nida.

Elsewhere, Panama topped France, 9-2, and Colombia bopped Spain, also by 9-2, in the other WBC qualifier going on this week in Panama City.