BRNO, Czech Republic – Led by multi-home run days from Matej Hejma and Jakub Sladek, Czech Republic (4-2) destroyed France (4-2) 14-3 in seven innings on a beautiful afternoon for baseball at the 2014 European Championships Final Round.
It was a tight contest through the first few innings, but Czech Republic got on the board first in the top of the first. Petr Zyma drew a leadoff walk to get things started for the hosts. After Jakub Hajtmar whiffed, Matej Hejma stepped to the plate, and with a 1-0 cont, ripped a home run down the left field line to light up the scoreboard.
The Czechs would put two more runners on base in the frame against Maxime Brelle-Andrade, but could not push anything across. The French starter struck out the last two batters of the inning.
France would also get on the board in the first. With one down, Felix Brown, whose dramatic walkoff home run lifted the French to a victory over Belgium in Regensburg, kickstarted the rally with a single through the shortstop hole. A single by Frédéric Hanvi moved the speedy Brown to third. With one down, Hanvi attempted to steal second and was thrown out, but Brown raced home on the throw to make it 2-1.
Czech starter Boris Bokaj settled down after that, and neither side would score until the third. In the frame, Pierre Turrettes singled for France and came around on a booming triple by Brown to tie the game at two.
Brelle-Andrade was the benificiary of a controversial call in the fourth. After a leadoff double by Premek Chroust, Petr Zyma lined a ball over the first base bag that initially appeared to be fair. After racing into second with a double, the umpires ruled that the ball was fall, taking a run off the board for the Czech. Given another chance, France’s hurler buckled down to get a K and get out of the frame.
Sladek would put the home side in the lead for good, though, an inning later, ripping a monster home run to right centre with one out. The blast went well over 400 feet/120m. After a Petr Čech double with two out, France’s coach Eric Gagné yanked his starter in favour of Thomas Meley. Meley ended the frame, but the Czechs had the lead for good.
Bokaj pitched the bottom of the frame and finished having given up just two runs on six hits and a walk, striking out five. He needed only 79 pitches.
The Czechs would blow the game wide open in the sixth with two out. Zyma and Hajtmar hit back-to-back singles and Meley was pulled for Yoann Vaugelade. On the righthander’s first pitch, Hejma launched his second four-bagger of the game. The shot to left centre travelled roughly 390 ft/120m and upped the score to 6-2.
Not to be outdone, Sladek drilled his second roundtripper of the contest to dead centre. The solo shot was again of Ruthian proportions, again carrying over 400 feet.
In the following frame, the Czechs put the game in mercy rule territory against Vaugelade, who remained in the game to save France’s pitching staff. With one down, Tomas Polánsky reached on an infield hit that Omar Williams dove to keep from going down the line. A walk to Chroust moved him to second, and Michal Ondráček singled him home.
A walk to Zyma loaded the sacks before Hajtmar unjammed them with a two-run double to centre. Two batters later, Sladek added another two RBI, though this time on a single to right. The final two runs scored on Jakub Malik’s two-run homer to make the game 14-2.
With the game almost in the books, Gagné’s men scratched across a final run against Duffek. Andy Paz drew a leadoff walk, and Williams launched a triple to the wall in right centre for the run. He was stranded there with no out, and the Czechs moved a win closer to the finals.
Bokaj earned the win, while Brelle-Andrade took the loss. France had three runs on eight hits and two walks, while the hosts had six walks and 16 hits, half of which were for extra bases. Neither side committed an error in the field.
Sladek was 4-for-5 to lead the Czechs in hits, driving in four and scoring three times. Sladek remarked after the game, “[Before the first home run], I was just trying to hit the ball a hard as I could.” The first baseman continued, “It feels great to homer in front of a home audience. We’re happy to have the support.”
Matej Hejma watches his first home run. Hejma topped the team with five RBI and was 2-for-5. Asked about his first home run, Hejma explained, “I knew [Brelle-Andrade] had a good slider. I was waiting on a fastball up in the zone, but I got it inside and reacted. It went well!”
Regarding the second home run, the Czech centre fielder joked, “I was a bit mad on the second home run as the team had barely finished congratulating me when Jakub hit his homer. He stole my moment!”
Hejma added seriously, “Hitting a home run in front of home fans is everything that a baseball player can wish for. Having an ovation from [the fans] is a great thing.”
Hajtmar was 3-for-5 with a pair of runs and RBI, while Ondráček joined him with a hitting brace.
Felix Brown was 2-for-2 with a walk, while Réné Leveret was the only other French player with multiple hits. Mathieu Brelle-Andrade took the loss after surrendering three runs on seven hits and three walks through 4 2/3. He struck out five.
The Czechs will have the nightcap on day two, tangling with undefeated Italy (6-0) at 6 p.m. GMT. In discussing the Czech Republic’s preparations for the game, Hejma observed, “We felt the bats weren’t as hot as they could have been in Ostrava. We’ll take the same approach we had today against Italy tomorrow.” Sladek agreed, “We’ll go one pitch at a time, but we are still believing we have a chance for a medal.
France will have the early game again tomorrow (10 a.m. GMT), this time against powerhouse Netherlands, who have the night game on the first day of the Brno round. We’ll have all the action on Twitter.