World Baseball Classic: Harry makes history but Canada show no mercy

Despite the narrative that “all of the games are winnable”, everyone knew that the meeting against Canada was, on paper, the most winnable. Manager Drew Spencer kept faith with the lineup that did him proud against the USA, and he was rewarded as GB came out of the blocks with the brand of exciting baseball that helped them qualify from Regensburg.

FIRST INNING

Lead-off hitter Chavez Young showed impressive patience to draw a walk and then immediately stole second. He was moved over to third by Trayce Thompson’s groundout, and then Matt Koperniak was also issued a free pass as Cal Quantrill, Canada’s starter, continued to struggle to find the strike zone.

Koperniak, not a guy known for his speed, attempted to steal second, but instead of allowing him the base, Bo Naylor (Canada’s catcher) threw to second, which gave Young an easy trot home for the opening run – the first-ever steal of home in WBC history.

Nick Ward then drove the ball between the shortstop and third baseman, scoring Koperniak from second.

And the inning continued with Darnell Sweeney driving in Ward, which signalled the end of the day for Quantrill, who was pulled after just 37 pitches.

Anfernee Seymour chopped it back to the plate and so nearly beat the pitcher to first, but 3-0 in the first inning was a great start for GB. This was the dynamic small-ball in which GB excels.

Minnesota Twins’ prospect, Eduoard Julien, homered off the first pitch he saw from GB’s starter, Akeel Morris. Freeman walked, and within a moment, the bases were loaded. Canada loading the bases was a recurring theme of the day.

It appeared the danger was extinguished when first baseman Nick Ward caught an Abraham Toro drive, but the relay back to Harry Ford was misplayed, allowing two runs to score. Full disclosure: I couldn’t see whether Nick or Harry was at fault. Moments later, Owen Cassie drove in a fourth to give Canada the lead. How quickly the tide had turned.

In a move reminiscent of the London Series, both starters were pulled from the game in the first inning as Cam Opp entered. A ball chopped back between the pitcher and first base showed GB’s defensive liabilities again as they failed to secure the out, and a fifth run scored.

After 45 minutes, the first inning was finally over

GB 3-5 CANADA

SECOND INNING

Young walked for the second time today and immediately stole second base… also for the second time today. A hard-driven single down the middle from Trayce Thompson scored Young, and with Koperniak at the plate, Thompson stole second. Cleveland’s catching prospect, Bo Naylor, looked completely unable to stop the GB running game.

Opp put himself under pressure with two walks, and despite being rescued by the rare occurrence of a GB double-play, he was made to pay when Abraham Toro drove in Tyler O’Neill to extend Canada’s lead to 6-4.

McKenzie Mills became GB’s third pitcher of the day and immediately struck out Bo Naylor.

GB 4-6 CANADA

THIRD INNING

BJ  Murray led off with a double and was driven home by outfield replacement D’Shawn Knowles. GB had their mojo back. Knowles was picked off attempting to steal third. He looked safe in the video review, but the out decision stood.

And then the wheels came off for GB. Canada scored four in the third.

GB 5-10 CANADA

FOURTH INNING

Young singled to reach base for a third time and was joined by Thompson, who walked.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Harry Ford drove the ball into the left field seats to bring GB back within two. The 20-year-old became the youngest player to ever homer in the World Baseball Classic.

Cue the celebrations.

Credit: GB Baseball

BJ Murray enjoyed a far better day than yesterday by reaching base three times. He was on first when Darnell Sweeney put a charge into a dead-centre flyball. It looked like a home run all of the way but fell short of the elevated yellow home run line.

When the crowd’s eyes returned to the action, Sweeney was still jogging to first and only made it to second thanks to a Canadian fielding error. And Murray, who should have scored standing up, only made it to third.

Two runs would have levelled the scores, so the lack of hustle was even more disappointing, given what happened later.

Credit: @BrennanMense

Canada continued to load the bases and added run after run without really doing much. Things could have been so different had the ricochet from new pitcher Donovan Benoit fallen to Anfernee Seymour to make the out. Instead, it bisected the infielders, and Canada scored five more runs in the inning.

GB 8-16 CANADA

FIFTH INNING

GB went down in order in the first scoreless half-inning of the game. The stuffing had been knocked out of the team. Mojo had gone AWOL.

Despite two singles, two walks, and two wild pitches, Canada only added one run in the fifth when Tyler O’Neill crossed home plate. O’Neill had a day! He scored four runs and went 4-for-4 with two walks for 1.000 OPS.

GB 8-17 CANADA

SIXTH INNING

Soon-to-be 40-year-old John Axford disposed of the demoralised GB hitters in just 12 pitches in the sixth inning. In contrast, Canada’s hitters were motivated to invoke the Mercy Rule (when there is a 10-run difference after seven innings). Jacob Robson, another of the 1.000 OPS club, scored his third run of the game. The difference was now 10 runs.

GB 8-18 CANADA

SEVENTH INNING

Pitching superstar-in-waiting, Matt Brash was given the ball for the seventh inning and promptly struck out three GB hitters in quick succession.

FINAL SCORE: GB 8-18 CANADA

VERDICT

That was a tough loss. Just 11,555 were in attendance for the highest-scoring game in World Baseball Classic history.

Such an exhilarating start was quickly demolished by Canada, who went about their job with some hard hits and solid fundamentals. They shrugged off the loss of Quantrill in the first inning and look capable of testing the other teams in the group.

For GB, the fact that I hold my breath every time there is a routine infield play speaks volumes. They cannot afford to keep gifting bases and expect to remain in contention. The failure to convert double-plays or simple outs is one thing, but the issuing of 16 walks is unforgivable if the team is serious about competing at this level.

Drew Spencer has the job of picking the players up ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Colombia. And if anyone can get GB’s mojo back, then it’s Drew.

Gav is one of the Bat Flips & Nerds team in Phoenix trying to give GB fans a taste of the World Baseball Classic experience. You can follow him on Twitter @GavTramps

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