Pitching to the fore in "lights-out" 2-1 win for Team Australia
22 December 2017
Played in picture-perfect conditions at Melbourne Ballpark – notwithstanding a power outage in the fourth - the sixth Australian Baseball League All-Star Game commanded an even greater level of interest than usual, given the calibre of players on the World All-Stars team and the incentive for a Team Australia squad with its collective eyes on potential selection for the World Baseball Classic in March.
Not surprisingly, the game developed into a pitcher-dominated contest as both sides wheeled out the current best of the best in the Australian Baseball League to keep the game scoreless through three as both sides played quality defence while struggling for offensive production.
Scoring a run in the fourth, the World Team continued to dominate the Australian offence – which drew level on a wild pitch in the sixth and capped an enthralling contest against the trend of play with a last-gasp two-out walk-off for a thrilling 2-1 win.
As trumpeted for weeks now, former Kansas City World Series starter Jeremy Guthrie took the start for the All-Stars – throwing six pitches to retire the Aussies in order after veteran Australian hurler Craig Anderson had escaped a jam in the top of the first.
Earlier flagging his intention to share his team’s pitching duties, Australian Manager Jon Deeble relieved with Justin Erasmus before trotting out a string of national prospects including Tom Bailey, Luke Wilkins, Dushan Ruzic, Josh Guyer, Matt Williams and Steve Kent against a powerful All-Star side that was held well in check after a top of four that had the potential to unravel after back-to-back singles to Mike Reeves and Stone Garrett. After Wilkins tattooed Josh Altmann, Kevin Padlo delivered with a long sacrifice fly that scored the first run of the game before Logan Wade made a stunning play from shortstop to end the inning.
Dushan Ruzic walked Ronald Acuna and Jordan Cowan in the fifth but was helped out of a jam when Allan de San Miguel hosed Cowan at second on a two-out double steal - cleverly conceding that speed machine Acuna would comfortably reach third on the play.
Tugging a ball hard into leftfield way back in the bottom of three, Mitch Nilsson was the only Team Australia player to hit safely through the first eight innings as Australia continued to struggle for offensive production against Kramer Champlin, Max McNabb and Zech Lemond – while fireballer Loek van Mil induced a double play when the green and gold threatened in the bottom of five.
Stone Garrett hit safely off Josh Guyer to lead off the sixth for the All-Stars and stole second before Altmann walked, only to see another two runners left high and dry when Guyer whiffed Joey Wong.
Not able to impose any authority on the All-Star pitching staff – which was without the superbly performed Mark Hamburger for this game – Team Australia finally found an opening in the bottom of six, when Keisuke Honda walked Kyle Perkins, Angus Roeger and David Kandilas to draw Shoga Noda from the pen to replace his Aces teammate.
A wild pitch levelled the scores before the game was again reclaimed by the pitchers – including AAA star Steve Kent for Australia and the hard-throwing Lex Rutledge for the World All-Stars.
Called on in the ninth, Tim Atherton struck out the All-Star side and Sven Schuller looked odds-on to take the game into extras – despite a two-out Trent D’Antonio single that created a fleeting sense of deja-vu after his eleventh-hour heroics in the game last year.
Team Australia was on a mission, though, with a wild pitch sending D’Antonio to second and Stefan Welch delivering the coup de grace with a booming double to the right-centre alley that drove in the go-ahead for a 2-1 Team Australia win, its fourth from six meetings.
Well done to both team on an outstanding display of competitive, high-quality baseball!
While the fans were starved of the long ball and heavy scoring for this contest, it was a wonderful showcase of pitching and defence that reflected very well on personnel engaged in the Australian Baseball League.
Although Australian team management may have liked to see more in the way of offensive production, it would be delighted with the outings of many of its players – especially its pitchers - who have already been selected or are currently in contention for the World Baseball Classic.
Allowed a squad of twenty-eight for the Classic – and with upwards of twenty spots already nailed down – Australia will face an embarrassment of riches with the potential post-Christmas availability of some of our very best in Ryan Rowland-Smith, Peter Moylan, Trent Oeltjen, Sam Gibbons, Dan McGrath, James Beresford, Peter Moylan, Warwick Saupold and perhaps Liam Hendriks.