France looks to upset Panama in semifinal

France looks to upset Panama in semifinal

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Listening to France manager Eric Gagne on Friday evening, it seemed he and his team relish the underdog role.

Despite coming into the World Baseball Classic qualifier with just one MLB-affiliated player, Class A Advanced (Indians) catcher Andy Paz, the French picked up their first win in Classic competition on Friday, a 5-3 victory over Spain.

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"France, we've come a long way," Gagne said. "There's not a lot of baseball there, but it's fun to see them celebrate all their hard work."

If France is the proverbial David, then host Panama will serve as Goliath on Saturday, when the two teams square off in a 9 p.m. ET elimination game at Rod Carew Stadium, The winner will face Colombia in the qualifier final on Sunday, with a bid to the 2017 World Baseball Classic up for grabs.

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Following Friday's historic win, Gagne said the plan was to enjoy the momentous occasion with his team before regrouping on Saturday.

"They've been working really, really hard, and it's fun to see them celebrate," Gagne said of his young squad. "Talent-wise, we're not as deep as a lot of teams. We know that. But I think it makes us better. I think it's makes us really focus on what we need to do."

Carlos Lee on loss to Colombia

On the flip side, Panama manager Carlos Lee wasn't in a celebratory mood Friday after watching his team get held hitless for 6 2/3 innings en route to a 6-3 loss against Colombia. Originally, his plan was to save right-hander Dario Agrazal for Sunday's tilt, but with his team facing elimination, Lee decided to start Agrazal against France.

Lee knows all too well about losing an elimination game at Rod Carew Stadium. In 2012, he was on the roster when Panama suffered a 1-0 loss to an unheralded Brazil team in the Classic qualifier final.

"It's a one-game series," Lee said. "You've got to respect everybody. On any given day, anybody can have a good day and give you trouble. … We've got to turn it around and play a solid game tomorrow if we want to beat France."

Colombia, seeking the first Classic final berth in the country's history, will just be able to sit back, watch and get some scouting in before Sunday's big game.

Alex Espinoza is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.