BRNO, Czech Republic – The Netherlands (7-0) pounded out 16 hits, including home runs by Curt Smith and Gianison Boekhoudt, to beat France (4-3) 14-5 at the 2014 European Baseball Championships final round. There was little doubt from the beginning that the French side (No. 33) would pose little trouble for the Dutch, ranked No. 5 in the world and first in Europe, but Les Bleus showed why they are considered one of Europe’s rising baseball nations.
Diegomar Markwell, who pitched seven years in the Blue Jays’ minor league system and has 11 years of international competition under his belt, took the hill for the Orange, and got them going with a 1-2-3 first, though it included a base on balls and nice pickoff for the southpaw.
At 34, Markwell was opposed by Leonel Céspedes, who was born three years before his opponent signed with the Jays. Céspedes, at 20 one of France’s best pitching prospects, was greeted in his second career start for France with a leadoff double to red-hot Randolph Oduber, who came in hitting .526/.591/1.105. Céspedes would recover with three quick outs to keep the game scoreless.
France would get a gift in the second against Markwell as René Leveret reached on a dropped fly to right field and was bunted to second. But Markwell got out of the jam with a flyout and some snappy fielding by his catcher Shawn Zarraga on a drag bunt by Pierre Turrettes for three outs.
Céspedes struggled a bit with his control in the top of the second, walking Kalian Sams and Zarraga to begin the frame. Yurendell de Caster then dropped a perfect slow-rolling bunt down the third base line to load the bases. France’s hurler induced a potential double play ball to third, but Omar Williams threw low to home and Andy Paz could not handle it to score a run.
The Netherlands would then plate Zarraga on a Nick Urbanus single, while de Caster and Sharlon Schoop would score on a two-run knock by Hainley Statia to make it 5-0.
France would have a chance to score against in the third against Markwell as Jacques Boucheron reached on a fielder’s choice with one out. With two down, Boucheron moved to third on a perfectly executed hit-and-run on a 1-2 count to Felix Brown, but Markwell would strike out Frédéric Hanvi to end the threat.
Céspedes continued to look solid for France, but was unlucky with one down as he grazed Sam’s shirt for a HBP. Sams then stole second and with two down, de Caster singled home Sams. Schoop drove in de Caster on a drive to the centre field wall, who was stranded there. The damage was done as the score moved to 7-0.
Leveret would get France on the board with a no-doubt solo homer to right centre to lead off the fourth. The four-bagger went approximately 400 feet. The Netherlands continued to pour it on in the fourth, though. Oduber led off with a single against Céspedes before Curt Smith coolly stroked a first pitch roundtripper to left.
Gianison Boekhoudt then snapped out of a 0-for-6, four strikeout slump with a two-bagger that hit the foul line with one down. Zarraga singled home Boekhoudt before the frame ended and the 10-4 lead would more than hold for the Netherlands.
Markwell gets two quick outs in the fifth, before Maxime Lefevre and Brown hit back-to-back singles. With France showing some fight, Leveret blasted another HR, again on a 2-1 count, though this time to left. Leveret knew he got all of the pitch and trotted slowly around the bases for France. Andy Paz got France’s fifth straight hit against Markwell with a bloop to centre, but the throw to second beat him by a half-step and the inning came to an end.
Neither club threatened in their next at bat, but Hainley Statia started off the bottom of the sixth with a triple to the wall in right centre. Smith once more jumped on the first pitch for a RBI, this time on a single up-the-middle. Boekhoudt then ripped a two-run dinger for his fifth home run at the Euros to give him 15 RBI. Despite two more hits, that was all for the Orange in the frame, upping its lead to 13-5.
Both sides went down in order in the seventh. In the eighth, Daniel Camou took the hill for Les Bleus and walked Boekhoudt and Sams on full counts to start before losing Zarraga at 3-1 as the strike zone appeared to tighten slightly. With one down, Schoop added a final run for the Dutch on a sacrifice fly, 14-5, and Orlando Yntema finished off the game by getting France 1-2-3.
The Orange collected three doubles, a triple, and two four-baggers among their 16 safeties, and de Caster was the hit leader with three. Five other players had two hits, including Boekhoudt, who had a double, home run, walk, two RBI, and three runs scored. Zarraga reached base four times.
Markwell tossed seven frames in the victory and allowed nine hits and one walk, with all five runs earned. He whiffed four. Kevin Kelly and Orlando Yntema finished with a scoreless inning apiece. The Dutch committed a pair of miscues.
Céspedes took the loss after throwing four innings, giving up 10 hits, eight earned runs, two walks and striking out four. He pitched better than the numbers would indicate against the equivalent of a AAA lineup while age-wise only the equivalent of a A-ball pitcher France.
French coach Eric Gagné, a former World Series winner with the Boston Red Sox in 2007, noted, “[Céspedes] threw well on short rest. He throws really hard and has lots of potential. At this point, it’s all a learning experience and we just have to focus on making pitches.”
Enrique Jumatrinidad (two innings), Thomas Langloys, and Camou finished off the game for France, who committed an error, but collected five ru ns on 10 hits and two walks. Leveret, Paz, and Brown all had a brace of hits for France. Brown reached base three times.
With the victory, the Netherlands qualified for the championship game on 21 September. It has one more game against similarly undefeated Italy tomorrow. Meanwhile, France will close out its tournament against Spain in the first match of the day on 20 September.
“We’re here to learn a lot against more experienced teams and stay positive,” concluded Gagné. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”
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