Host country set to appear in final for chance at Classic berth
By Mark Newman
Mexico, the clear favorite coming into the World Baseball Classic qualifier this week at Estadio B-Air in Mexicali, advanced to Sunday night's final with an 11-0 victory over Nicaragua on Friday night in a contest stopped in the seventh inning because of the early-termination rule.
Nicaragua (1-1) will now face the Czech Republic (1-1) at 9 p.m. ET on Saturday, while Mexico (2-0) will rest up and play the winner at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday. The winner of the final will advance to the fourth installment of the World Baseball Classic next March.
Fans can watch all Classic qualifier action on MLB.com or worldbaseballclassic.com and follow along with MLB Gameday.
Reds prospect Alex Blandino, whose walk-off hit in the 10th inning on Thursday gave Nicaragua a dramatic victory over Germany, was not in the lineup due to a reported injury to the back of his right thigh, perhaps a pulled muscle.
"Maybe internally it's something we can't see, obviously," Nicaragua manager and former Giants outfielder Marvin Benard said of Blandino's injury. "He became part of the family real quick. He was on the bench trying to support everybody, doing the best we could, trying to give moral support. In the end, we just didn't compete. ... You can see the result."
That was only the start of a miserable night for Nicaragua, which could do little right. Nicaragua committed three errors, walked seven batters, hit two batters and threw two wild pitches. Mexico scored its first nine runs on only three hits.
Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez drew two more walks, bringing his total to five in the first two games as he has seen precious few pitches to hit. The All-Star first baseman, hoping for his fourth consecutive World Baseball Classic appearance, went 0-for-2 but picked up an RBI and scored twice.
Mexico had scored both of its runs on Thursday in the first inning, and they duplicated that feat on Friday. Left-hander Carlos Teller walked three batters and threw 33 pitches in that inning.
His third walk loaded the bases, and the first run scored when Nicaragua first baseman Wuillians Vasquez threw wildly to second in trying for a double play. Agustin Murillo ripped a single to left to score Gonzalez with the second run.
Winning this game was huge for both teams, because it would mean going directly to the Sunday finale and not having to play on Saturday. All four teams knew going in that one would have to play all four days, and that means being subjected to some difficulties caused by pitch limits.
Teller was replaced by Mariners prospect Kevin Gadea (4-4 in the Dominican Summer League last year) after 39 pitches. Because he was under 50 pitches, Teller would be eligible to play on Sunday if Nicaragua beats the Czechs.
Gadea had a big bases-loaded showdown with Gonzalez with one out in the second. Gonzalez grounded what should have been a tailor-made double play to Ronald Garth at second, but Garth bobbled it and could only throw out Gonzalez at first. That mistake -- the equivalent of an error, if not scored as one -- made it 3-0, and Mexico promptly made it 4-0 on a wild pitch.
Mexico starter Stephen Landazuri, drafted by the Mariners in the 22nd round in 2012, held Nicaragua hitless through the first three innings and then induced a double-play after giving up a leadoff single in the fourth. He finished the fourth with 49 pitches and then came out, so he also would be available Sunday if needed.
Four Mexico relievers combined for three scoreless innings after he left. Nicaragua had the bases loaded in the seventh, but a 1-2-3 double play ended the game. Indeed, it has been almost as easy as 1-2-3 for Mexico in this tournament.
"I think our pitching is our strong suit," Mexico manager Edgar Gonzalez said. "Obviously our hitters are doing a great job, too, and we're getting some runs. But if you look at our pitchers, from starters to bullpen, they all throw hard and they throw strikes. If we manage to do well in this tournament, it will be because of this pitching and defense."
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.