Spain Overpowers Czechs
After a day of slow starts yesterday, and a rain delay today, the Czech Republic and Spain wasted not even a second giving the fans the action they craved. After the first pitch in the bottom of the 1st, the score was 3-1 in favor of Spain who merely had the advantage because they got first ups.
In the top half of the inning Noelvi Marte and Justin Connell, who each reached on singles, were driving in by a long shot to left off the bat of Jesus Ustariz that slowly, but finally, left the park. That put Spain ahead by 3 before Vojtech Mensik answered on the first pitch of his at bat with a solo dinger to straight away center. Ustariz, who batted 1.000 with a triple RBI on Friday against South Africa, finished the day with a .714 average with 2 runs off 3 hits and 5 RBIs over 5 at bats.
In each of the next two innings Spain’s offense piled on jumping ahead by 8 before the top of the 4th. In fact, the Czechs were heading to the pen just 1.3 innings into the game. Before the bottom of the inning the Czech defense was looking deflated but a little small-ball action in the bottom of the inning got them another tally on the scoreboard.
Still there were moments of triumph throughout the Czech play that made you remember just how much fun it is to root for a team playing great ball, regardless of the score. There was the outstanding play by RF Marek Chlup in the top of the 2nd with an over-the-shoulder, on the run grab at the wall to rob 1B Ustariz of what should have been a solid hit. Instead it sent DH Connell trucking back to 1st.
Speaking of Connell, after an error in yesterday’s win over South Africa, Spain went with his strength, placing him in the DH spot today to keep him away from the daisies out in right. Connell hit .750 yesterday with 2 runs and 2 RBIs off 3 hits and followed it up with identical numbers today.
Try though the Czech pitching staff did, sometimes a bench’s bats just sync up and you can’t stop the momentum. After five runs had already crossed for Spain in the top of the 5th, Edison Valerio, who had started the inning showing patience at the plate and walking aboard, was back around after being walked across to score.
This time around, bases still loaded, the 1B hit a grand slam to put Spain ahead by 16 meeting the 15+ run mercy rule and still they were not done. By the middle of the 5th, Spain had offered up 17 batters to the Czech pen. They left the top of the inning ahead 21-2. Tournament rules state any team behind by 15+ at the end of 5 get to go home early.
That’s when the Czech Republic decided they wanted to play a bit longer. In a shot heard round the park, Czech RF Marek Chlup made more than one fan strike the meerkat pose. Martin Cervenka then reached on an error by 3B Valerio and was driven in by a homerun off the bat of Matej Mensik. Three pitches, three runs. Finally, Armando Duenas’ fourth pitch landed in the glove of his catcher. He got one more over the plate before Martin Muzik took the third one yard for another run. Suddenly the Czech Republic were only down by 16 and within reach to extend the game through 7 innings.
A new arm in, the Czech offense was unphased. Filip Smola reached on a single, advancing to 2nd on a fielding error. Vojtech Mensik sent him home with a single to short that kept the Czech team alive. The game was now set to go at least 7 innings. If you love this game, you have to appreciate the grit.
The next two innings were quiet. No one scored. No one threatened. Solid closing and defense shut down all attempts to alter the outcome. So, according to tournament rules, down by more than 10 runs at the end of 7 innings, the Czech team hit the showers. While the scorecard may have a notch in the L column for them, any of the 1,725 fans in attendance, and thousands more watching from around the globe, knew they’d pulled off an epic W in the mental game. That will energize them heading into the double elimination game against France tomorrow.
As for Spain, they walk away 2-0 with two days to rest up before heading into their next game Tuesday evening against the winner of tonight’s game between Germany and Great Britain.