For the fourth straight game, Drew Spencer kept faith with the same starting nine, albeit with a slight adjustment to the order, dropping hitless Matt Koperniak down to sixth.
The difference between the two starters was extraordinary. GB’s Joseph King was a ninth-round draft pick by the St Louis Cardinals in 2022 and has yet to pitch in the minors. Taijuan Walker, Mexico’s starter, has a 3.89 ERA over 898 major-league innings
Taijuan Walker started with a clean 1-2-3 inning, including the strikeouts of Trayce Thompson and Nick Ward.
Randy Arozarena was Joseph King’s first challenge, and the Rays’ superstar drew the walk. Next up was Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo, you know, the one they got when they traded away Mookie Betts. Verdugo drove it down the middle, but Darnell Sweeney started one of the most elusive sights in baseball, a GB double play.
Joey Meneses singled, and then Rowdy Tellez’s line drive was snagged by Nick Ward at first. This was a true big-league pick by Ward. I can almost hear Ron Washington calling out, “Picking machine.”
GB 0-0 Mexico
Superstar-in-waiting, Harry Ford, doubled to centre, and GB had a runner in scoring position with no outs. BJ Murray struck out, and Matt Koperniak’s infield chopper was superbly handled by Taijuan Walker to record the out at first. The veteran pitcher, who signed a four-year, $ 72 million contract with the Phillies during the offseason, struck out Darnell Sweeney to strand Ford.
Tampa Bay Rays’ infielder, Isaac Paredes, singled before Joseph King struck out another Rays’ hitter, Jonathan Aranda, with three pitches. The kid has skills.
The strike zone eluded King against Rockies Alan Trejo, who enjoyed a four-pitch walk. A wild pitch shifted both runners closer to home, and the pressure on King was intense, but he encouraged the free-swinging Jarren Duran to strike out.
Alexis Wilson dragged the ball to BJ Murray, but the third baseman’s swivel and throw was way off target, and Paredes scored to give Mexico the lead.
With the dangerous Arozarena up next, Drew Spencer summoned Ryan Long from the bullpen, and the right-hander from the Baltimore organisation watched Arozarena’s flyball land in centre fielder Trayce Thompson’s glove.
GB 0-1 Mexico
Jayden Rudd quickly went 0-2 but patiently worked the count full before striking out swinging. Anfernee Seymour struck out on three pitches, which included a 72 mph changeup and a 95 mph fastball. Chavez Young soon followed, striking out on four pitchers. The GB hitters were making Walker look like a $72 million starter.
GB got the first out of the bottom of the third when Verdugo popped up to BJ Murray, and then Murray was again called to action when Joey Meneses grounded the ball to him. It was clear that the Nationals slugger had not done his research about GB’s infield woes. Instead of hustling, he merely jogged to first, where Murray’s wayward relay had pulled Ward off the bag. The Phillies’ minor leaguer niftily readjusted to secure the out. Ward was having a good start to the game.
Rowdy Tellez, he of the happy round face, doubled with a deep drive to centre to give Mexico another base runner, and it looked like Isaac Paredes’ blooper would drop between three GB players until Anfernee Seymour showed his adeptness with flyballs to keep the score at 0-1.
GB 0-1 Mexico
Trayce Thompson’s all-or-nothing approach resulted in nothing again with his second strikeout of the night. Taijuan Walker then made his second impressive defensive play to dispose of Nick Ward, bringing Harry Ford to the plate with the bases empty.
Ford came back from two strikes down to work a walk and push Walker ever closer to his pitch limit of 65. BJ Murray sent the ball high to left, but it was caught on the warning track to keep GB scoreless.
Jonathan Aranda’s line drive had double written all over it, that is, until Chavez Young’s bullet of a throw cut him off at second. Alan Trejo grounder to third, yet again proved there is no such thing as a routine play as BJ Murray’s throw to first took Ward off the bag again, but once again, Ward’s agility came to the rescue.
GB 0-1 Mexico
GB had weathered the battering from Taijuan Walker, who was now replaced by Erubiel Armenta. His first hitter was D’Shawn Knowles, on as a replacement for Matt Koperniak. Knowles launched the longest hit of the night, but his 355-foot flyball was caught on the right field warning track.
Darnell Sweeney drew a walk, but his stolen base attempt was easily read by the left-handed Armenta, who picked him off.
Jayden Rudd quickly found himself down two strikes, but once again, his patience at the plate belied his age (20 years old), and the Suffolk-born outfielder drew the walk, which signalled the introduction of the third Mexican pitcher of the night.
Anfernee Seymour dragged the first pitch he saw into the shift, and Manny Barreda got Mexico out of the inning unscathed.
Reds’ prospect, Donovan Benoit, came on and immediately struck out the number nine hitter, Alexis Wilson. Next was the far tougher proposition of Randy Arozarena, who struck out swinging on three pitches. Alex Verdugo’s deep fly looked like it would drop between the outfielders, but Trayce Thompson’s strides ate up the ground to make the catch.
GB 0-1 Mexico
GB was back to the top of the order, and a Chavez Young double (including a double-dipped tea celebration) ignited the Briths fans, who, although outnumbered, were making their presence felt. A runner in scoring position with no outs felt like the best opportunity of the night so far.
Trayce Thompson took Barreda to a full count but whiffed on a fastball low in the zone. Nick Ward swung at the first pitch, clipping it high and vertical, but it was easily caught in foul territory.
Surely, Harry Ford couldn’t do it again?
The 20-year-old, and yes, it is amazing to believe he has only just turned 20, absorbed the loudest crowd of the evening at 3-2 but was able to lay off the changeup to earn a walk.
Then came the moment we had waited for. Chavez Young took off from second to swipe third and tie the illustrious quartet of Jimmy Rollins, Javier Baez, Ichiro Suzuki, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka as the all-time stolen base leaders in the World Baseball Classic. And he did it in only 3⅔ games.
BJ Murray (or Bazza to his mates, and we consider ourselves his mates), grounded to short but showed game-winning hustle to beat out the relay to first. Obviously, Chavez Young needed no invitation to sprint home and level the game 1-1.
Donovan Benoit induced a first-pitch ground ball, but Anfernee Seymour slipped while throwing, and the ball sailed past Nick Ward at first base by a wide margin.
Isaac Paredes hit two monster shots, one that drifted wide of the left field foul pole and another that looked to have the legs but was claimed by Chavez Young in right field. It is impossible to take your eyes off the 25-year-old Chavez Young. Surely a Pirates debut is imminent.
GB 1-1 Mexico
Darnell Sweeney walked to lead off the inning before Jayden Rudd, who worked his third full count of the game, grounded into a double play.
One of the heroes of Regensburg, Anfernee Seymour, had struggled with the bat during the tournament but got a confidence-boosting, hard-hit single up the middle. Unfortunately, he was picked off, taking a long lead at first, but the video replay seemed to conclusively show he was safe. However, for the second time in this tournament, the replay team ruled against GB and the big screen evidence.
Tahnaj Thomas took the mound for GB and immediately walked Alan Trejo before getting Jurren Duran to bloop to third for the first out of the Mexican half of the inning. A wild pitch moved Trejo into scoring position, and Alexis Wilson’s drive dropped fair along the third base line, allowing Trejo to scamper home to give Mexico the lead.
With the top of the order coming up and Thomas clearly not having his best stuff, Drew Spencer called upon one of the unheralded superstars of the team, Dan Cooper. With sinkerballs that topped out at 85 mph, Cooper struck out Randy Arozarena and got Alex Verdugo to ground to first to get out of the inning.
Cooper, who has never pitched above Double-A, now has two strikeouts during the tournament: Randy Arozarena and Mike Trout.
GB 1-2 Mexico
Nick Ward struck out swinging to lead off the inning. GB were just five outs from defeat.
With three swinging strikeouts to his name, surely now was the time for Trayce Thompson to send one yard. Instead, the Dodgers’ slugger got the unwanted present of a golden sombrero (four strikeouts in a game).
Chavez Young grounded to first, leaving GB with only one inning to level the scores
Andre Scrubb was given the ball for GB to face late-developing hit-machine Joey Meneses. The Nationals’ slugger’s blooper fell in front of Trayce Thompson to gift him first.
Rowdy Tellez excited the now-very-vocal Mexican fans with a deep flyball, but this time it was gobbled up by the GB centre fielder.
Another passed ball moved Meneses into scoring position with only one out. The signs were ominous, especially when GB fans held their collective breath not once but twice during infield plays. But both Darnell Sweeney and Anfernee Seymour confidently threw to first to secure the final two outs of the inning.
GB 1-2 Mexico
With 14 saves for the St Louis Cardinals last season, Giovanny Gallegos was called upon to close out the game for Mexico. First up was GB’s talismanic catcher, Harry Ford, but he was lured into swinging at one below the zone to strikeout. BJ Murray grounded out to second before Alex Crosby, one of the two captains on the GB roster, came on to pinch it. He fouled off a couple of fastballs and then sent a flyball Randy Arozarena’s way to end the game.
Final score: GB 1-2 Mexico
The quality and experience of Mexico’s starter (Taijuan Walker) and closer (Giovanny Gallegos) should have resulted in a far greater margin than just the single run.
And then, we you think that the top four in the lineup of Randy Arozarena, Alex Verdugo, Joey Meneses, and Rowdy Tellez combined for 79 home runs in the majors last season, it becomes unfathomable how GB kept themselves in contention.
The tenacity of the GB lineup is matched only by the belief of manager Drew Spencer that the process works. How many other managers would have kept faith with the same starting nine after the humiliating defeat to Canada? But Drew knew that was his best lineup coming into the tournament, so why tinker? The win against Colombia and the narrow defeat against Mexico, vindicated his decision.
The Colombia win could have been discarded as a fluke had GB been mercy-ruled against Mexico, but instead, the whole baseball world now knows that Great Britain has a serious baseball team. I wanted to write, “Great Britain is a serious baseball country”, but we know that is not true.
Qualification to the World Baseball Classic brought the game to the attention of many Brits who were previously unaware of the sport’s existence. This impressive performance at the WBC won’t yet make youngsters want to be Harry Ford or Jayden Rudd or Chavez Young, but it is a huge stride in the right direction.
There is no point in dwelling on the “what ifs” around an infield of Lucius Fox and Jazz Chisholm, but it should be celebrated that, despite so many players playing out of position, GB kept themselves competitive in all but the final couple of innings of the Canada game.
At Bat Flips & Nerds, we are constant defenders of the GB team. I cannot begin to calculate how many comments we have received suggesting GB would be mercy-ruled in all four games. The performances by the GB team vindicated our optimism. We are so proud of Drew and the rest of the 52-strong contingency.
So, where do we go from here? Personally, I would love Drew to get the opportunity at a higher-profile club position. His talent deserves greater recognition, although obviously, this would be a huge loss to the GB national team.
But that is for another day. The immediate focus is on the climax of Pool C. Mexico, Canada, and the USA are all 2-1, with Colombia 1-2. The winner of the Mexico v Canada game will qualify for the quarter-finals. The permutations for who joins them are many, but if the USA win, then they will also go through.
And it is a USA win that we all want. Given the state of the group, a victory for Mark DeRosa’s team will put Colombia at the bottom of the group with GB on 1-3. GB’s win over Colombia gives them the tiebreak edge and means Great Britain would finish fourth in the group instead of fifth.
The difference of not finishing bottom is almost incalculable, as GB will automatically qualify for the next World Baseball Classic and not have to go through the lottery of qualification.
The guaranteed place will open up so many financial opportunities, and if there is one thing British Baseball needs, it’s finance. So, for one day only, we are all Team USA.
Gav is part of the Bat Flips & Nerds team covering GB’s adventure in the World Baseball Classic. You can follow him on Twitter @GavTramps