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WBCQ Brooklyn: Great Britain Eliminates Brazil, Advances to Qualifier Final #wbc

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WBCQ Brooklyn: Great Britain Eliminates Brazil, Advances to Qualifier Final #wbc

By Gabriel Fidler, lead writer of Extra Innings: Baseball Around the World, and contributing writer to Mister-Baseball.com

BROOKLYN, New York – Great Britain made the most of its six hits and received great pitching performances from Blake Taylor and Chris Reed in upsetting Brazil 4-3 on a beautiful autumn evening. The victory propelled Team GB to the World Baseball Classic Qualifier’s championship game against undefeated Israel on Sunday.

It was clear from the beginning that the game would be controlled from the mound, as Britain’s Blake Taylor and Brazil’s Andre Rienzo both flashed impressive stuff in the first inning.

Taylor, a Mets’ farmhand who last pitched at MCU Park in 2015, was tabbed with easily the most important start of his young career, and was clearly pumped up in the first. Brazil tested him immediately with a bunt attempt from Gabriel Macías, but Taylor pounced on the ball and proceeded to finish the frame with two strikeouts sandwiched around a walk.

Rienzo, one of three Brazilians with recent time in the majors, was fresh off a useful campaign for the Miami Marlins’ Triple-A club. The righthander, who only switched to relieving in 2016, had a 2.51 ERA for the New Orleans Zephyrs with eight saves. For Brazil, however, Rienzo could be used for nothing less than to start a game of this magnitude.

The hurler did not disappoint out of the gates, striking out the first two batters before Champ Stuart, having a breakout performance in the qualifying tournament, stroked a triple to deep left centre. Rienzo buckled down on Todd Isaacs, getting a ground ball on an 0-2 pitch to end the threat.

Taylor and Rienzo matched 1-2-3 innings in the second before Brazil’s offense, latent throughout the tournament, finally revved into action. A leadoff single from Fernando Luciano was erased on a double play, but the Green-and-Gold were not to be stymied.

Macías bounced a single up the middle and Irait Chirino followed with a safety of his own. A wild pitch put two runners in scoring position, and Leonardo Reginatto, Brazil’s sparkplug, stroked a single to right that plated Macías and Chirino. Brazil’s loyal fans erupted in even louder cheers as the inning ended, matching the fans behind Britain’s dugout with chants of “Brasil!” against “Let’s Go GB!”

Not to be outdone, Chavez Young singled to start the bottom of the third and Kyle Simmons followed by blooping a ball down the right field line that glanced off the racing second baseman’s glove for a double.

A hit by pitch would load the bases, and Rienzo looked to be drawing on his experience with back-to-back strikeouts, but the righthander plunked Isaacs on a full count to force in a run. Brazil looked to be out of it after Rienzo induced a grounder to the left of second base, but Reginatto, who had played solely at third this tournament, booted the ball and two runners raced home. Isaacs attempted to take third on the play and was thrown out to end the inning, but not before Britain took a 3-2 lead.

Taylor and Rienzo both shook off the difficult third frames with three-up, three-down fourths, but Brazil knocked Taylor out of the game in the fifth. The hard-working southpaw gave up a walk to Luciano and a single to Lucas Rojo, and with Taylor‘s pitch limit approaching, Britain’s manager Liam Carroll summoned the bullpen.

With two on and no out, Chris Reed had the unenviable task of preserving Britain’s lead, but the six-year minor league veteran and former Los Angeles Dodgers’ prospect took to the task with aplomb. Fresh off a 3.65 ERA in the Marlins’ system, the lefty got a weak foul pop off a Macías attempted sacrifice bunt and struck out pinch hitter Bo Bichette and Reginatto to exit the rally unscathed.

Rienzo completed his outing with a dominant fifth inning, punching out two and pumping his fists after his third strikeout of Jasrado Chisholm.

It was Reed‘s turn to wriggle out of his own jam in the sixth after giving up a leadoff double to Dante Bichette, Jr. and waiting too late to toss to first after knocking down a hard hit Juan Carlos Muñiz grounder a batter later. Reed took a sacrifice bunt for an out and bore down for two popups, and Britain maintained a 3-2 lead.

Felipe Sales breezed through Britain’s lineup in the sixth, and Brazil once more threatened in the seventh. Macías drew a one-out walk and move up a base on another infield hit, this time from Bo Bichette, and a double steal put two runners in scoring position.

Reginatto bounced a ball to Chisholm at shortstop, and after Macías bolted home, Chisholm threw a strike to catcher Chris Berset, who tagged out the runner. Another groundball later, and Brazil had stranded two more runners.

Britain would make their opponents pay for the missed opportunity in the bottom of the frame. Albert Cartwright looped a one-out safety to right and advanced on a wild pitch. Young joined him on the basepaths after working a free pass, and Kyle Simmons, who had snared two very difficult foul popups in the past two innings, stroked a single to score Cartwright, taking second on the throw home.

It appeared that Great Britain would have a chance to break the game open, but Brazil’s catcher, Luís Paz, picked Young off third, an Sales got Chisholm to fly to centre. The damage, however, was done, as Brazil found themselves down 4-2.

Brazil finally struck again in the eighth, but once more failed to capitalise on its baserunners. Reinaldo Sato doubled with one out and came home on a fielding error, and Luciano and Rojo stroked singles to load the bases with one out and needing only one run.

Reed, in his fourth inning of work, reached back for something extra and found it, blowing fastball after fastball by Macías and Bo Bichette to get out of the dangerous situation with only the single run allowed.

Britain put two runners on in the bottom of the inning, but turned the ball back over to Reed with the margin still at 4-3. Two quick outs later, it looked like the game would end with a whimper, and even Brazil’s supporters had finally fallen silent.

Muñiz had other plans, though, rocketing a ball to the left centre field gap that stayed in the park but was deep enough for him to race to second. An excited Muñiz clapped his hands, and chants of “Brazil” rang through the crowd once more.

Carroll was forced to pull Reed as his pitch limit had been reached, and inserted Dan Cooper. With Sato batting, the stadium took a collective gasp as Muñiz took off for third, and Britain’s Berset fired down to Simmons at third. Both teams knew the out was made before a call was even made, and Great Britain’s bench burst onto the field, rushing the mound as Union Jacks fluttered behind their dugout.

The victory was the most important in recent British baseball history and would certainly rank among its biggest upsets, with Brazil at No. 16 in the world rankings and arguably the tournament favourites.

“I was a little surprised [when Muñiz took off for third],” admitted Carroll after the game. “I was really pleased with Chris [Berset] today, and he made a great throw.”

“I was trying to be aggressive in the game,” explained a rueful Barry Larkin, Brazil’s skipper, “but there are some things you’re really surprised to see in baseball, and Muñiz taking third was something I never thought I’d see. He came up with a big hit and couldn’t hide his emotion and had a mental lapse out there.”

The win went to Reed (1-0), who worked around seven hits and a walk in 4 2/3 gutsy relief innings. He struck out five in relief of Taylor, who went four innings and gave up two runs on five hits and two walks, whiffing three.

“I didn’t make it easy on myself or the team, but I had a good defence behind me,” granted Reed. “It’s been a long road since last time I pitched for Great Britain in Regensburg. I’ve played in a lot of places in the US and I’m now a little more refined, a little calmer, and I wasn’t flustered by all the baserunners.”

The loss went to the unlucky Rienzo, who struck out eight in five innings and allowed only three hits and two hit batsmen. Only one of the three runs he surrendered was earned.

“When I play for the national team, I always give 110 percent, and sometimes it’s really hard to control emotions,“ commented an obviously upset Rienzo. “I am really proud to put on a Brazil shirt, but I didn’t do quite enough for the win.”

Stuart and Simmons each had two hits for the victors, who totaled only six on the day.

“I didn’t try to do too much,” explained Stuart. “I kept it simple and just tried to get on base. I’m so fortunate to be on this Great Britain team-I have never had so much fun in my life and it’s a rare feeling. I can’t really even say much more.”

“The only thing I had in my mind was helping the team,” offered Simmons on his standout day. “Getting dirty or getting injured, I just want us to win.”

“I think Simmons was leading me out there,” praised the veteran Reed of his 19-year old teammate. “He was making plays and telling me what to do [on defence], which I really appreciate.”

Brazil accumulated 12 hits, but the team left 11 men on base and was 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Muñiz, Luciano, and Rojo each recorded a brace, while Reginatto had two RBI and finished with a .417 average.

“I can’t say how proud I am of our pitchers. We had a defined game plan coming in, and they executed,” concluded Larkin. “We have really developed our arms. Both Andre and Bo Takahashi took losses despite pitching well, and we’ll have to work on our execution. That’s certainly something we’ll have to do.”

“We didn’t do well against lefthanded pitching either, and Israel exploited that yesterday and Great Britain did the same today,” added Brazil’s manager. “We’ll lick our wounds and then get back to developing players. Many people told me coming in that we were the favourite, and that shows how far we’ve come in four years.”

Great Britain (2-1) will challenge Israel (2-0) for the right to join South Korea, Taiwan, and the Netherlands in Seoul in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The winner-take-all contest begins at 10 p.m. GMT on Sunday and can be watched live at www.worldbaseballclassic.com.

Live updates, analysis, and interviews can be followed on Twitter @extrainnings_bb and Mister Baseball will have an exclusive wrapup after the game.

WBCQ Brooklyn: Israel Squeaks by Brazil, Advances to Qualifier Championship #wbc

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WBCQ Brooklyn: Israel Squeaks by Brazil, Advances to Qualifier Championship #wbc

By Gabriel Fidler, lead writer for Extra Innings: Baseball Around the World, and special contributor to Mister-Baseball.com

WBCQ Brooklyn: Israel Squeaks by Brazil, Advances to Qualifier Championship #wbcBROOKLYN, New York – Israel and Brazil showed off impressive pitching in a performance that truly put the ‘classic’ in World Baseball Classic, and the Israeli team came out the victors in a 1-0 nailbiter of a game in the final qualifying round for the 2017 WBC. Israel advanced to the title game, while Brazil will have to defeat Great Britain for a chance at revenge.

Despite very different backgrounds, Corey Baker and Bo Takahashi stole the show with ace performances for their countries. Baker, a 26-year old righthander from just north of New York City, advanced to Triple-A in the Cardinals’ system this year.

On the other hand, Takahashi was scouted in Brazil at a MLB Elite Camp, which brings professional coaching to countries without established baseball programmes. One of four teenagers on Brazil’s roster, Takahashi impressed in Single-A for the Diamondbacks’ organisation this year

Brazil threatened in the first inning against Baker after Irait Chirino walked and 2013 Classic star Leonardo Reginatto singled to left, but Baker buckled down and caught Dante Bichette, Jr. looking and got a flyout to end the frame.

Takahashi started the game with a three up, three down first, and Baker matched him in the second. Brazil’s starter immediately got into trouble in the bottom of the inning, walking Ike Davis and giving up a single to Cody Decker with no outs. Showing poise beyond his years, though, Takahashi tackled the next three batters methodically, and got out of the jam without surrendering a run.

Neither side put a runner on in the third, but Brazil left runners in the corners an inning later, and Israel would make them pay in the fourth.

Nate Freiman laced a ball off the left fielder’s glove to lead off the inning, racing to second for a double. Another miscue moved him up a base, as a line drive handcuffed the first baseman and put Davis on board. Decker would drive home his Portland Sea Dogs teammate with a sacrifice fly before Takahashi could recover.

Baker came out for the fifth and finished with his third 1-2-3 inning before exiting due to tournament rules on pitch counts.

Murilo Gouvêa, hero of Brazil’s 2012 qualifying wins over Panamá, came in to keep the game close and did just that with a quick fifth inning.

Brazil set to work again in the sixth against Jared Lakind, putting runners on the corners with one out after Reginatto reach on a groundball and swiped second and third. Bichette walked, but Israel’s reliever got back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.

Both sides had quick seventh innings before Brazil attempted to rally in the eighth against Jeremy Bleich. With two down, Bleich gave up singles to Reginatto and Bichette, but Ryan Sherriff entered in a key situation for the second game in a row and slammed the door with a grounder for the third out.

Felipe Salas and Hugo Kanabushi pitched a scoreless eighth before Israel’s manager Jerry Weinstein brought in closer Brad Goldberg for the second straight game. Goldberg earned his second save with a dominant ninth, striking out one.

Baker (1-0) earned the win after giving up only a single hit in five scoreless innings, walking three and striking out six. Bleich struck out three in 1 2/3 as Brazil put only eight men on base and whiffed 12 times.

WBCQ Brooklyn: Israel Squeaks by Brazil, Advances to Qualifier Championship #wbc
WBCQ Brooklyn: Israel Squeaks by Brazil, Advances to Qualifier Championship #wbc
WBCQ Brooklyn: Israel Squeaks by Brazil, Advances to Qualifier Championship #wbc

“I’m honoured to have ‘Israel’ across my chest and be part of this team,” remarked Baker. “My game plan was to pitch to my strengths—getting groundballs and being efficient—and let the guys work behind me. Ryan [Lavarnway] kept me on track, and he has a ton of experience.”

The energetic Decker, who spoke movingly after day one about the extra innings loss that has haunted Israel since the qualifying rounds of the last World Baseball Classic, talked more about the team.

“We really quickly became a family last time, and the new guys have become part of it as well. When I initially joined the team, I didn’t expect it to be what it became. Should I have expected it? Yes. We’re proud to represent Israel.”

Takahashi (0-1) was the hard luck loser, punching out five in four frames, surrendering the game’s only run on just two hits and a walk. Gouvêa tossed three scoreless, allowing a hit and a walk.

“It was a great opportunity to show off the work I’ve been doing,” observed Takahashi through an interpreter. “First and foremost was fighting for my country and doing it with pride. I learned a lot today and it is very good to play against good players.”

An obviously frustrated Barry Larkin, manager of Brazil, praised his pitchers after the game. “We have to keep pitching like we’re pitching. What you saw today is what we’re capable of doing. When we saw Bo play at an Elite Camp six or seven years ago, we saw potential, and he is progressively getting better.”

“Those guys [Israel] did an excellent job. What went wrong was that their guys did well. What was right was our pitching, and we have to keep that up,” concluded Larkin.

Each side collected only three hits, and Israel’s loaded middle of the lineup contributed most of the offense, as Freiman, Davis, and Decker reached base four times, drove in and scored the only run, and stole the team’s only base.

Reginatto was 2-for-4 for the second straight game from the three hole and Larkin praised the team’s leader afterwards.

“Leonardo has a good approach to hitting, a very calm approach. He keeps the bat head in the zone for a long time. I told him that he’ll be a big leaguer, and told him he could smile when I said that. He said, ‘I don’t want to smile, because I’m not there yet.’”

Larkin‘s Brazil will have to fight back against Great Britain, who defeated Pakistan in the day’s second game, in a contest later today. First pitch is scheduled for midnight GMT, with the winner advancing to battle Israel on Sunday for the right to advance to the Classic’s main draw.

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WBCQ Brooklyn: Great Britain in WBCQ Semis after 14-0 Win #wbc

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WBCQ Brooklyn: Great Britain in WBCQ Semis after 14 0 Win #wbc

By Gabriel Fidler, lead writer for Extra Innings: Baseball Around the World, and special contributor to Mister-Baseball.com

WBCQ Brooklyn: Great Britain in WBCQ Semis after 14 0 Win #wbcBROOKLYN, New York – Driven by a combination of great pitching and a barrage of hits, Great Britain advanced to the semifinal of the World Baseball Classic Brooklyn Qualifier with a mercy rule win over Pakistan. Team GB will face Brazil, who lost earlier to Israel, 1-0.

It took until the second inning for Great Britain to start scoring, but it would put a run on the scoreboard in every inning thereafter. Albert Cartwright got things started in the second, crushing a 3-1 fastball to the wall in dead centerfield for a leadoff triple. A Chris Berset sacrifice fly made it 1-0.

A frame later, Britain finally started to get to Pakistan starter Muhammad Zohaib, who otherwise had made only a single mistake on the pitch to Cartwright. Kyle Simmons and Champ Stuart opened the third with base on balls, and Jasrado Chisholm bounced a ball to the right side that Stuart carefully ran over, blocking the second baseman’s view and allowing Simmons to score. A double play erased Chisholm, but Stuart scored to make it 3-0.

After a single run in the fourth on a RBI-single from Chavez Young, Britain opened the floodgates in the fifth to put the game away. Chisholm started with a single and stole second. Jordan Serena worked a one-out walk, and a double steal left two runners in scoring position for Cartwright, who responded with a line drive to right that found its way past the rightfielder. The speedy second baseman took advantage and scampered to third with another triple, and later scored on another one-base knock from Young.

Britain would add on three more in the frame to make the score 10-0, and from that point it was only a matter of how quickly the hot-hitting Lions would finish the game.

The sixth saw three more runs cross the plate, with the big blow coming from pinch hitter Nateshon Thomas, who fought off nine pitches before blooping a ball down the left field line and racing to second for a RBI-double and giving Britain two runners on. Stuart would drive both home with a ball to the shortstop hole that he beat out for a single. Thomas hustled all the way home from second to give Stuart two RBI on the play.

After a final run scored in the ninth on an error, Britain sealed its place in the semifinal with the convincing victory. The club pounded out 13 hits and worked eight walks, both of which, along with the run total, are the highest totals of the qualifying tournament thus far.

“The atmosphere was awesome in the dugout during the game, but also well long beforehand,” remarked Britain’s skipper Liam Carroll. “We didn’t take this game for granted, but took it seriously.”

Chisholm topped the team with a 3-for-5 game, while Stuart continued his exhilarating play from day one. The centerfielder was 2-for-4 with a walk and three RBI. Cartwright and Young joined him with a pair of hits, while Cartwright crossed home three times.

“It’s a rush to wear the name of your country on your shirt and to look down and see that it says ‘Great Britain’,” noted Chisholm with a grin after the game. “There’s nothing like it in baseball.”

“Our vision includes qualifying for the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics, but it’s more than just performance,” added Carroll. “We want to inspire children back home to play, and with the way our layers have adopted the ‘GB Way’ and how we’ve played, people are talking about us on social media and there is a buzz about British baseball.”

“Baseball in the Bahamas is really growing, and kids are starting to love it more and really wanting to play it, not just because their parents want them to play a sport. Playing like this [raises the profile]” noted Chisholm. “In the past few years as [teammate] Antoan Richardson made the big leagues and Albert Cartwright has advanced to Double-A, people have started to become much more excited about baseball.”

Lost in the impressive performance was the pitching of Greg Hendrix, who was lights out through four innings. The veteran of Britain’s squad gave up only a single hit in the start, striking out three. The win would go to Paul Kirkpatrick (1-0), one of three relievers after Hendrix. Each tossed a scoreless frame to preserve the shutout. British pitching faced only one batter over the minimum.

Zohaib (0-1) took the loss, but flashed a nice breaking ball in hurling 3 2/3 innings. The southpaw surrendered four runs on five hits and three walks, striking out three. Aswar Ahmad and Muhammad Asif finished off the game for the Green-and-White.

WBCQ Brooklyn: Great Britain in WBCQ Semis after 14 0 Win #wbc
WBCQ Brooklyn: Great Britain in WBCQ Semis after 14 0 Win #wbc
WBCQ Brooklyn: Great Britain in WBCQ Semis after 14 0 Win #wbc

“I was playing my first international match in any country,” said Zohaib, as his manager interpreted. “I learned a lot and will be more confident next time.”

“Pakistan is in pretty good shape [in their development],” observed Carroll. “They are raw, but they have some tools to build on. They’re quick, they’ve got a couple guys who can throw hard, and they have a lot of athleticism. Their shortstop made a great throw early, and they just need more game time.”

“There is a large Pakistani population in Great Britain, and we talked about growing that relationship in baseball,” continued Carroll. “We’ll be developing our contact with their federation as they grow.”

Pakistan’s charismatic manager, Syed Fakhar Ali Shah, agreed. “Now we can see what the difference is between professional players and us. All of the team know about the major leagues, but not they have seen them play, but have also been on the stage themselves.”

Great Britain (1-1) will face Brazil (1-1) later today, with a midnight GMT first pitch that can be watched at www.worldbaseballclassic.com. The winner will face Israel on Sunday for the final place at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Follow Mister-Baseball.com’s live reporting from Gabriel Fidler on Twitter @extrainnings_bb for exclusive updates, statistics, and interviews.