World Baseball Classic: Sometimes a loss can also feel like a victory

When Drew Spencer, Great Britain’s dynamic manager and mastermind of qualification to GB’s first ever appearance in the World Baseball Classic, sat down to develop a gameplan, it probably didn’t include the dream scenario of a first-inning bomb off Adam Wainwright to give GB the lead over, possibly, the greatest lineup ever assembled. 

Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson despatched Wainwright’s 72 mph curveball into the left field seats and to give a scoreline that few people inside Chase Field expected.

Great Britain knew they would get on the board, they had a pre-prepared celebration.

The veteran Cardinals pitcher looked shaken and immediately issued a walk to designated hitter Matt Koperniak, but Wainwright escaped without further damage.

Seeing the back of Mookie Betts with a fly-out and then striking out Mike Trout was an excellent start for GB starter Vance Worley,, but the US lineup is relentless and the bases were quickly loaded. Although, even Trea Turner’s speed wasn’t enough to get him to first on a ground ball when Anfernee Seymour is fielding.

With the USA failing to capitalise on the bases-loaded situation, there was a strange feeling of disbelief in the crowd.

GB 1-0 USA

SECOND INNING

Darnell Sweeney reached to lever a low pitch for a Mookie Betts warning-track catch. Jaden Rudd singled, and then Anfernee Seymour demonstrated what real speed looks like with hustle to first. B.J. Murray was called out on strikes to end the inning, but the crowd realised that GB had come to play.

GB 1-0 USA

THIRD INNING

Trayce “the new King of England” Thompson doubled and was moved to third by another productive at-bat from Matt Koperniak. Nothing came of it, but it was yet another warning shot of intent.

A flyout from Mike Trout led off the inning, but Paul Goldschmidt reached on a fielding error from Darnell Sweeney. A wild pitch moved him to second, and a line drive from Nolan Arenado past the diving BJ Murray tied the scores.

A Kyle Schwarber sacrifice moved Arenado to third, and with his 60th pitch of the game, Worley walked Trea Turner. Obviously, Drew Spencer would have preferred not to make a pitching change in the third inning, but his team is facing a Dream-Team lineup from the USA.

New pitcher Jake Esch immediately induced weak contact on a ball that Sweeney would like another attempt at snagging. Turner jogged home to give the USA the lead as the ball continued to the outfield.

Normal service had been restored

GB 1-2 USA

FOURTH INNING

A Sweeney bloop single gave GB hope, but that was immediately extinguished when Goldschmidt combined with Turner and Jeff McNeil for a double-play. The US were showing GB and the world what elite defence looks like. It was a quick, six-pitch inning that kept Wainwright below 50 pitches for the night.

Seeing Betts and Trout for the third time and it was only the fourth inning, was foreboding. Betts grounded out, but Trout walked, and then swiped second. The greatest player of his generation was so determined to get the win for USA that he was swiping bags. Magnificent!

Goldschmidt was hit by an Esch curveball which proved to be the pitcher’s final action of the evening.

Drew Spencer summoned Ryan Long with two on and one out, but after two quick strikes, his 83 mph changeup was destroyed by Kyle Schwarber.

GB 1-5 USA

FIFTH INNING

The US made their first pitching change, bringing in Jason Adam, Tampa Bay’s ace reliever, fresh off a 1.56 ERA, 0.76 WHIP season.

He gave up two hard-hit balls (one by Seymour and one by Murray), but they were snagged in deep outfield by Betts and Trout respectively.

With the US 5-1 up and with GB spending far longer in the field than their opponents, the signs were ominous for the underdogs.

Ryan Long looked impressive and was on course for a quick 1-2-3, until a Betts ground ball eluded Sweeney at shortstop. The difference in middle-infield defence between the two teams felt vast.

GB 1-5 USA

Mercy rule number one (15-run deficit after five innings) was avoided.

SIXTH INNING

Jason Wylie was brought in at DH to face the new pitcher for the US, former Cy Young contender, Kyle Freeland. Wylie’s pop-up was effortlessly caught by Arenado and then the Cardinals’ third baseman made the play-of-the-day with a smart grab from a Harry Ford line drive before throwing to first while running towards the dugout.

Dan Cooper, GB’s sinkerball specialist, was brought on to deliver his unique style to the party. He immediately induced a groundball from Paul Goldschmidt, but it scooted past the diving Barry at third. A double down the line from Arenado increased the US advantage to 6-1

British fans have a more enjoyable prospect of rooting for Goldschmidt and Arenado in the London Series in June… obviously, this excludes Cubs fans.

Jaden Rudd made an excellent catch, which was rightly applauded by the US fans in right field, to get rid of Schwarber. And then we witnessed one of the moments of the game when Dan Cooper struck out $300 million Trea Turner, on just three pitches. 

GB 1-6 USA

SEVENTH INNING

D’Shawn Knowles was brought on as a pinch hitter and turned a double into a triple thanks to his turbo speed, and his 10.6-second sprint from contact to third deserved a soon-to-be iconic celebration.

Seymour grounded out straight to Arenado, but even the 10-times Gold Glove winner wasn’t able to prevent Knowles from scoring.

Another defensive error by Murray – it wasn’t a great day for the third baseman who also went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts – gifted JT Realmuto first base. Cooper then got three quick outs by luring McNeil into a ground ball and then deceiving both Betts and Trout into simple flyouts.

GB 2-6 USA

EIGHTH INNING

King Thompson hit a monster 400ft shot which Trout caught on the warning track. Thompson owned two of the three longest hits of the night. He looked like a superstar.

Interestingly, GB players were responsible for five of the six longest hits of the day. It’s a game of inches.

GB flamethrower, Michael Petersen, was given the ball in the bottom of the eighth and immediately threw it past Paul Goldschmidt at 100.3 mph. GB pitchers also own nine of the ten fastest pitches of the night. These guys can play!

Petersen’s next trick was a three-pitch strikeout of Nolan Arenado.

GB 2-6 USA

Mercy Rule number two (10-run deficit after seven innings) was avoided. The masses that predicted an annihilation were sorely wrong.

NINTH INNING

Pirates closer David Bednar was given the honour of closing out the game for the US, which he did with just 18 pitches.

Final score: GB 2-6 USA

VERDICT

It was an amazing occasion. GB showed they are not here to make up the numbers. A few poor defensive plays were punished, and in reality, the 2-6 scoreline was fair. The standard box score shows GB’s eight hits to USA’s nine, but the six walks allowed by GB and the failure to execute fairly basic defensive plays were the difference.

It was a loss, but in some ways, it felt like a win. The GB players demonstrated that they deserved to share the same field as the US superstars.

In the press conference, US manager Mark DeRosa realised that his team had avoided a potential banana skin and was confident that GB would surprise some people in this tournament.

Canada, Mexico, and Columbia will have definitely taken notice that GB has pitchers that throw 88mph, others that hit triple-digits, power bats throughout the lineup, and speed to spare. 

The final comment goes to the winning pitcher, the Cardinals legend, who we hope we will see in London in June. Adam Wainwright said, “It was the most exciting game I’ve pitched in a long time.”

Gav is part of the team from Bat Flips & Nerds in Phoenix covering Great Britain’s historic first appearance in the World Baseball Classic. You can follow him on Twitter @GavTramps

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