The Canada defeat was history. All attention was on Colombia, and GB manager Drew Spencer stuck by his pre-tournament assessment and kept the lineup unchanged. It would have been easy to tinker with the spluttering infield, and perhaps if the GB national team were under greater media scrutiny, then the pressure to make changes would have been unbearable. But Drew is a man with a plan.
Edinburgh-born Tyler Viza, in his GB debut, was given the ball, and he calmed everyone’s nerves with an easy opening inning.
Colombia’s starter, Venezuelan-born William Cuevas, whose MLB career consists of 13 games between 2016-18 for an 8.00 ERA, replied with a straightforward 1-2-3
GB 0-0 Colombia
The ghost of botched routine infield plays returned at the start of the second inning when Darnell Sweeney’s throw evaded Nick Ward at first and gifted Meibrys Vilorias second base. Former Cleveland/current St Louis outfield, Óscar Mercado drove in the first run.
BJ Murray doubled to give GB their first base runner of the day, but they failed to trouble the scorer.
GB 0-1 Colombia
Viza induced two ground balls to the first two hitters, but GB failed to record the out at first as suspect infield defence continued to allow base runners. However, no damage was done on this occasion.
Jayden Rudd reached after being hit by a pitch, but a double-play (oh, so that’s how you do it) extinguished the danger.
Chavez Young drew the walk and, even more impressively, so did slugger Trayce Thompson to put runners on first and second. While Matt Koperniak worked a full count, Young stole third, but a deep fly to left field kept GB scoreless.
Even though GB hadn’t scored, restricting Colombia to just one run in three innings felt like an achievement.
GB 0-1 Colombia
The Sweeney to Ward (shortstop to first) combo worked to get the first out… although every infield play is an edge-of-the-seat lottery. A poor call by the home plate umpire allowed Viloria to walk, and then a passed ball moved him into scoring position.
A second walk brought Mercado to the plate with two on, and with Viza’s pitch count at 55, Mercado worked a 10-pitch walk, and the 65-pitch limit meant GB needed a new pitcher.
With the bases loaded, Graham Spraker fired a 95mph fastball for a strike in his first-ever pitch in GB colours, but then with the count full, Dayan Frias singled to plate two.
With the score now 3-0 to Colombia, there was an ominous inevitably that it would not be GB’s day.
However, Ford singled, and Ward walked, and then a failed pick-off attempt that bounced free allowed Ford to scamper to third. BJ Murray’s sac-fly put GB on the scoreboard.
Patient at-bats from Sweeney and Jayden Rudd loaded the bases, and with GB fans as loud as we have heard all tournament, Chavez Young drove the ball between second and third to score two and level the game 3-3.
GB 3-3 Colombia
Two tidy defensive plays – a smart grab and throw by Murray at third to Ward at first, and then a sliding catch in foul territory by Young – showed GB defence at its best. A quick 1-2-3 inning was exactly what GB needed and exactly what Spraker delivered.
Despite the heavy shift against him, Ward hit a hard single and was on second base when the Colombians decided to issue their second intentional walk of the game so Gomez could face fellow lefty, Rudd.
We learnt after the game that Rudd had approached Drew Spencer with, “you know I can hit lefties, don’t you?” in an attempt to keep him in the game. The GB manager kept faith, and Rudd delivered the shot of the game by drilling a stand-up double down the third base line to score two and give GB the lead.
GB 5-3 Colombia
Spraker stayed on, exceeding his pitch count, which took him out of action for the Mexico game tomorrow and promptly sent the Colombia hitters back to the dugout in order. He left the game with a line of 2⅔ innings, one hit, no earned runs, and two strikeouts. As debuts go, that was pretty damn impressive.
Great Britain also went down in order, so we went into the seventh with the slim lead intact.
GB 5-3 Colombia
Chavez Fernander came on and woke the Colombian fans by allowing a single and a walk, but they were soon quietened by excellent outfield defence by Chavez Young
Harry Ford was Great Britain’s first batter in the seventh and went yard with the first pitch he saw with a deep flyball to left field. Ford has played six times for Great Britain and has five home runs. The 20-year-old has an opportunity for greatness.
Nick Ward walked for the second time today before a Sweeney double put runners on second and third. A wild pitch escaped too far from the catcher, and Ward sprinted to score his third run of the day.
GB 7-3 Colombia
Just six more outs were needed, but Ferdander was taken to full counts by two consecutive batters, which gave Drew Spencer no option other than to replace him with Ian Gibaut. The Cincinnati Reds reliever entered with runners on first and second and immediately threw major-league pitches to get three outs in just six deliveries.
Young reached after being hit by a pitch but was picked off after taking too long a lead from first. Thompson struck out, and Koperniak continued his hitless streak to send us to the ninth inning.
GB 7-3 Colombia
Three more outs; I can’t breathe.
My situation was made worse by Dilson Herrera homering off Gibaut on the second pitch of the inning to make it a three-run game. And then Harold Ramirez got on first, thanks to yet another infield throwing error.
Gio Urshela’s sent a flyball deep, but it was caught by Chavez Young with a crowd-pleasing strut. Two more outs!
Jorge Alfaro singled to give Colombia runners at first and third, and then a wild pitch allowed Alfaro to take second. A home run would tie the game. Baseball is brilliant.
Then, possibly the greatest play I will ever see. Ronaldo Rodgriguez grounded the ball to Sweeney, who threw it wide of Ward, but the first baseman made an extraordinary pick to get the out. Ward is a shortstop forced to first base, and although he has made many fine plays, there have been several in the tournament that have eluded him. Had the ball shot past him, Colombia would probably have scored two.
Colombia asked for a video review, but the decision stood. During the play, Ramirez had crossed home plate to reduce the deficit from three to just two runs.
ONE MORE OUT
And then, all that was left was for Gibaut to strike out the final batter, and an historic win was GB’s
GB 7-5 Colombia
It is difficult to put a value on the importance of today’s win without venturing into hyperbole, and it was nicely summed up by Drew Spencer, who said, “We will see someone [a Brit] in the major leagues because of this moment.”
The ability of the players to pick themselves up after the – let’s be honest, embarrassing – performance against Canada shows the talent and belief in this group of young men. Of course, much of the praise must go to Drew Spencer for instilling this belief; for making the players know that they belong in the tournament. And belong, they certainly do. Before the game, many wise heads that have covered thousands of baseball games told us that Colombia was the best of the five teams in the pool.
Unfortunately, the other results in the pool mean that GB will still probably finish fifth and miss out on automatic qualification. Obviously, a win over Mexico or two Colombian defeats would change that, but both look tough asks.
There is so much more to say, but I went from delirious to drained on Saturday, despondent on Sunday, and today I feel ecstatic, but also, my brain is frazzled, so I can’t really think straight. Being in Phoenix covering the team is a blast, but I started at 7am and it’s now after midnight, so sleep/rest deprivation is taking its toll.
Mexico in a few hours. Apparently, it is sold out, so Chase Field will be a sea of green… with a couple of red, white, and blue patches.
Gav is part of the Bat Flips & Nerds team covering the World Baseball Classic in Phoenix, Arizona. You can follow him on Twitter @GavTramps