By Gabriel Fidler (@gabrielfidler)
MARYVILLE, Tenn. –Panamá outlasted a relentless Nicaraguan offence and took advantage of key scoring situations themselves in a 6-2 World Baseball Classic victory. The hosts advance to face Colómbia, while Nicaragua was eliminated.
Panamá took a quick 1-0 lead in the first after Isaías Velásquez walked to lead off the frame and New York Mets’ shortstop Rubén Tejada lined a double to right field. After a walk to Carlos Ruiz, Nicaragua’s Édgar Ramírez got three outs, all against big leaguers, to prevent any more damage.
Panamá would strike again an inning later. Ángel Chávez led off with a bloop single and Concepción Rodríguez walked. Jeffer Patino laid down a bunt to advance them, but Ramírez threw wildly to first and Chávez scored. Velásquez bunted both runners to third, but with only one out, Ramírez struck out Tejada and induced a fly ball from Ruiz, an All-Star catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies.
For the second time in three innings, Nicaragua put two runners on, but Eliecer Navarro once more prevented any damage. Ramírez posted his first three up, three down frame against the heart of Panamá’s lineup, and the score was 2-0 heading into the fourth.
Navarro got two outs, but allowed a pair of hits to Nicaragua before Gilberto Méndez came in to slam the door. Panamá would start to pull away in the bottom of the frame as Rodríguez tapped a slow roller to third and advanced all the way to third after the errant throw sailed past first base. Jeffer Patino would drive him home with a sacrifice fly, and Ramírez had two outs.
Velásquez would start another rally with a soft single to left and Ramírez was pulled in favour of Berman Espinosa. Tejada greeted Espinosa with a line drive double to center to make it 4-0. Espinosa then made things worse by hitting Ruiz and Carlos Lee. With the bases loaded, pinch hitter Javier Domínguez went down swinging.
Neither side scored in the fifth, but Nicaragua finally plated a run in the sixth. Cheslor Cuthbert ripped a two-bagger to left and, with two outs, Renato Morales drove him home with a double of his own. Euclides Bethancour entered from the bullpen in relief of Méndez, and got out of the inning on a ground ball.
Nicaragua had a chance to stage a rally in the top of the seventh after loading the bases with only one out. Major leaguer Manny Corpas came in after two were on and appeared to have produced a double play ball to get out of the inning. Ofilio Castro rolled a ball to the hot corner, but Chávez booted the ball. Everth Cabrera hustled home and Jilton Calderón attempted to follow him, but left fielder Isaías Velásquez threw home to Ruiz, who applied the tag. Corpas got out of the inning one batter later.
Panamá batted with a 4-2 lead and tacked on another run on a RBI-single by Rodríguez, who was 3-for-3 in the contest. Nicaragua had two more runners on a half-inning later, but Corpas showed veteran poise in escaping the jam.
The final run of the contest came in the bottom of the eighth. Tejada laced his third double and advanced to third on a ground ball. He came home on a line drive by Luís Castillo. Manny Acosta came on for the ninth, and retired Nicaragua 1-2-3.
Ramírez took the loss for the blue-and-white, hurling 3 2/3 innings and giving up three earned runs on four hits and three walks. He struck out four. Six other pitchers saw action for Nicaragua, which had four players with two hits and 12 as a team.
Navarro led a Panamanian pitching staff that surrendered only one walk. He hurled 3 2/3 frames, scattering six hits and whiffing three. Méndez earned the win with two innings of one-run relief, striking out one. Bethancour and Corpas earned holds. Tejada joined Rodríguez with three hits, and the former drove in two.
Panamá will look to use their home field advantage against a powerful Colombian team on Monday, Nov. 19 at 12:05 GMT. Roberto Kelly will likely need to depend on the Panamanian core hitters in Ruiz, Carlos Lee, Rubén Rivera, and José Macías, who despite a combined 4,153 MLB games went 0-for-14 with five strikeouts. The winner will contest upstarts Brazil for the World Baseball Classic Qualifier championship.
Stay tuned to www.worldbaseballclassic.com for video of all games.