Panama squeaks past Colombia in slugfest

Panama squeaks past Colombia in slugfest

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- There were heated arguments, banging drums, blowing horns, ground swelling chants and ejections -- Sunday night was certainly an entertaining one at Rod Carew National Stadium. As the drama unfolded between Panama and Colombia in the second elimination game of the Panama World Baseball Classic qualifier, the back-and-forth offensive outbursts were just part of the story.

When all the dust settled, Panama stood as the victor, bouncing Colombia out of the tournament with a 9-7 victory. From pleasure to stress, Panama manager Roberto Kelly felt a wide range of emotions throughout the course of the game.

"It was all of the above," Kelly said. "It was stressful because we would score and they would come right back. They weren't giving in, they were going to go to the last out. It was fun, obviously, because we won the game, but during the game there was no fun about it."

The host country is now set for an 8 p.m. ET Monday rematch with Brazil in the qualifier final with a trip to the 2013 Classic on the line. The game can be watched live on worldbaseballclassic.com. Brazil stunned the baseball world with a 3-2 win over Panama on Thursday in the qualifier's opener, but has looked impressive in its two tournament wins.

On Sunday night, the hometown crowd of 5,317 fans was rowdy from the onset of the game. Panama's early 6-0 lead didn't hurt, either.

But as Colombia crept back into contention, things got even more heated. By game's end, Colombia manager Eduardo Perez had been ejected, along with Panama reliever Ramiro Mendoza (1-0). Kelly nearly got tossed himself and there were airborne beers to celebrate the host country's thrilling victory.

"It was a good game for the fans," Kelly said. "Good game for TV, it's a good game for everybody else, a good game for the country because we won the game at the end."

As momentous as Panama's five-run second inning was, it wasn't nearly enough to defeat a resilient Colombia squad.

Panama left fielder Isaias Velasquez started off the scoring by roping a triple to the right-field gap and plating two of his teammates. Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada followed it up with a perfectly-placed RBI squeeze bunt, before Carlos Lee hit a two-run homer to center field, eliciting a loud chorus of "oohs" and "aahs" from the stands.

After tacking on another run in the top of the fourth via a Carlos Ruiz RBI single, Panama held a 6-0 advantage. That's about when Colombia made its first of many comeback attempts on the night.

After struggling to get anything going for the first three innings against Panama starter Alberto Acosta, Colombia picked up steam in the fourth. The team pushed across three runs in the frame, using an RBI double from Reynaldo Rodriguez and sacrifice flies from Nationals catcher Jhonatan Solano and Luis Sierra. Following a fifth-inning RBI from Marlins infielder Donovan Solano, Colombia's deficit was cut to 6-4.

"We would score and think we could hold the lead," Kelly said. "But they kept coming back."

Things got really crazy in the seventh inning, starting with Ruben Rivera's at-bat. Home-plate umpire Clint Fagan warned both benches after Colombia pitcher Yesid Salazar threw a pitch high and tight. Eventually, Rivera hit a no-doubt solo shot to left field to extend Panama's lead to 8-4.

Following the homer, Perez came out to the mound to speak with Salazar. Fagan tried to break up the conference on the mound and eventually ended up tossing Perez after they exchanged words. After the game, Perez said it was a miscommunication.

"I'm walking back to the dugout and I say, 'Man, that was the wrong call,'" Perez said. "But I was talking to myself. ... As far as where I watched the game from, television did a great job on that part and let's leave it at that."

In the bottom of the frame, Mendoza was ejected by the Fagan after hitting Steve Brown with a pitch. This spawned a testy exchange between Kelly and the ump, but the Panama skipper stayed in the game.

Panama was done scoring at that point, but Colombia wasn't close to being finished. The team sent seven batters to the plate and scored three more runs in the bottom of the eighth, two coming on a ringing double by Giovanny Urshela that bounced off the left-field wall.

But Manny Corpas closed out Colombia in the ninth inning.

"The experience was awesome," Perez said. "I've done it as a player, done it as a coach, and now as a manager. It's horrible to lose, don't get me wrong. But the experience here in Panama, the first one, the first time there's a WBC here, I think they did a wonderful job."

"I applaud team Panama for coming back after a loss in their first game, I applaud the fans for supporting their team here."

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