Reds prospect Alex Blandino hit a walk-off double in the bottom of the 10th inning to score two runs and give Marvin Benard's Nicaragua club a thrilling 5-4 victory over Germany on Thursday in the opener of the World Baseball Classic qualifier at Estadio B-Air in Mexicali, Mexico.
Germany squandered leads in both the ninth and 10th innings. Blandino's second double of the game came off reliever Enorbel Marquez, and No. 6-ranked Rangers prospect Jairo Beras barely beat the throw by center fielder Dominique Taylor to score under the tag of A's prospect Bruce Maxwell.
Nicaragua, appearing in its second WBC qualifier after going 0-2 in 2013, moves into the winner's bracket to play at 10:30 p.m. ET Friday against host Mexico, which defeated the Czech Republic, 2-1. The winner of this qualifier will be decided on Sunday night and will join the field in the fourth installment of the Classic next March. All World Baseball Classic qualifier games are streaming on MLB.com and worldbaseballclassic.com.
"It's about being in the moment," Blandino said. "In baseball, you're always going to have ups and downs. I had a good first at-bat, then those three at-bats in the middle of the game with runners in scoring position. You're always going to have the opportunity to drive in runs, and that's what is expected in that [No. 5] spot [in the lineup]."
Blandino, ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Reds' farm system, combined to hit .278/.364/.420 last season with Cincinnati's affiliates in the Class A Advanced Florida State League and Double-A Southern League. The shortstop had struck out three straight times before his game-winner, but he had also started the scoring for Nicaragua by doubling in Beras in the second inning.
Blandino then scored to make it 2-0, the only damage it could do against D-backs prospect Markus Solbach, who went six strong innings (86 pitches).
That score stood through the fifth inning as 40-year-old Nicaragua starter Gustavo Martinez shut down the Germans before reaching the 80-pitch mark. World Baseball Classic rules stipulate that a starter cannot go more than 85 pitches "unless the pitcher needs more to complete a batter's plate appearance," so Martinez was replaced by sidearmer Samuel Estrada for the sixth. It was foreign territory for Estrada, used to plenty of warmup time as a starter.
Estrada got into immediate trouble, issuing back-to-back walks to Reds prospect Donald Lutz and former Angels prospect Ludwig Glaser, and A's farmhand Bruce Maxwell made him pay with a three-run homer over the wall in center to put Germany in front. Maxwell had homered just twice last summer for the A's Double-A affiliate in Midland of the Southern League, but he also had gone deep just one week earlier for the A's in a Cactus League game against the Dodgers.
Germany was 2-2 in the 2013 Classic qualifier but was eliminated by Canada, and its bullpen is going to have to take a big step forward if it is going to fare any better and make its Classic debut, because what happened in the ninth and 10th innings could be tough to quickly shake off.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitter Sandor Guido drew a big walk off Martin Dewald, and the right-hander was subsequently replaced by Maurice Wilhelm. Janior Montes lined a single, and Dwight Britton struck out. Wilhelm had a chance to close out the win for Germany, but leadoff man Elmer Reyes, who played for Atlanta's Triple-A Gwinnett Braves last summer, singled to tie the game and force extra innings.
Germany came right back, as Lutz walked and then scored all the way from first on a double by Glaser to the right-field corner. Manager and former Blue Jays infielder Garth Iorg turned the game over to Marquez, a 41-year-old lefty who has pitched for Cuba, Germany and Italy. Marquez gave up a leadoff single to Darrel Campbell and got Wuillians Vazquez to line out to center, then hit a difficult spot in the Nicaragua order.
Beras batted .309 with six homers and 26 RBIs from July 1 to the end of last season in the South Atlantic League, and he posed a menacing presence in the cleanup spot for Thursday's opener. He reached base four out of five times, and his third hit moved Campbell to second. Blandino followed by scorching a ball to deep center, and this time Taylor -- who had made two spectacular defensive plays earlier -- could not save the day with his throw.
"We were feeling good about ourselves, but then we kind of ran out of pitching," Iorg said. "We're throwing Marquez -- we put him in a difficult situation out there because he's our most experienced guy -- and so we put him in a tough spot out there to get the middle of their lineup, so that was the hardest thing."
Both Solbach and Martinez will be unavailable for the rest of this round. Rules state that any pitcher who reaches 50 pitches must wait at least four days to pitch again, so that puts them out for the duration of the qualifier.
Benard, who played nine seasons with the Giants, said a good run by Nicaragua and further development by affiliated Nicaragua players would help grow baseball in the Central America nation.
"A showcase like this will certainly help," Benard said. "Those young players are going to learn from them."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Daniel Arreola contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.