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Updated: June 1, 2021
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Grand Slam/Marco Stoovelaar
Compiled and Copyright © 1997-2021 by Marco Stoovelaar

(Story by Marco Stoovelaar; Photo by Henk Seppen)

WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier opens in Florida; No-Hitter Canada

PORT ST. LUCIE / WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (USA) - The first games of the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier have been played on Monday (May 31) at two sites in Florida (USA). Three pitchers of Canada threw a No-Hitter against Colombia!

This is the first international baseball tournaments since the Premier12 in 2019. Last year, all international baseball-tournament were cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Americas Qualier initially was scheduled for March last year in Arizona (USA), but was one of the first events to be cancelled. The winner of the Americas Qualifier becomes the fifth team to qualify for the Olympic Games. The teams that finish in second and third place will advance to the Baseball Final Qualier, which recently was moved from Taiwan to Mexico. That event begins on June 22.

Eight countries participate in the Americas Qualifier in Florida. The Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and the USA play in Group A. Playing in Group B are Canada, Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela.

The games of the Americas Qualifier are played at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie and the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, which are both Major League Spring Training-locations. New York Mets prepares for the new season in Port St. Lucie. Houston Astros and Washington Nationals share the complex in West Palm Beach.

Just before the start of the event, some of the teams made some last-minute roster changes. USA-Manager Mike Scioscia reduced his roster from 28 to 26 players, dropping pitcher Clayton Andrews and catcher Matt Wieters (both former Major Leaguers) from the preliminary list. Cuba added two players who are currently active the the Mexican League, catcher Lisbàn Correa Sanchez and powerhitting outfielder Yadir Drake Dominguez. Venezuela also had to make a change, as short stop José Rondón was recalled from Triple-A to the Major League-team of St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.

The Dominican Republic opened the event in Port St. Lucie with a 5-2 win against Puerto Rico. Before the game, former Major League-catcher and Hall of Famer Iván 'Pudge' Rodríguez threw the ceremonial first pitch.

The Dominicans scored the first run in the bottom of the first inning on a single by Juan Francisco, but Puerto Rico answered with two runs in the second at bat when Ruben Castro hit a 2-run homerun. That lead was also shortlived, as the Dominicans came alongside in the third, thanks to a double by Diego Goris. The home-team then broke the 2-2 tie in the sixth inning by scoring twice. The team re-took the lead when Luís Liberato homered with one out. Hereafter, Gustavo Núñez tripled and scored on a double by Emilio Bonifacio. The Dominican Republic added another run in the seventh on a single by Núñez, who was 3-for-3.

...Alfredo Despaigne got injured...
...On the photo, he plays for Cuba during the...
...2017 World Baseball Classic...
(© Photo: Henk Seppen)
In West Palm Beach, Venezuela nipped Cuba, 6-5 in a thriller. The team took an early lead in the first inning off of starter Lazaro Blanco. Hernán Pérez led off with a single and Juniel Querecuto walked with one out. Both scored with two outs when batter Carlos Pérez homered. Venezuela added an important fourth run in the third inning on a single by Pérez. Cuba came back from the fourth inning on and narrowed the deficit to 4-3. In the fourth, Cuba scored twice on a homerun by Erisbel Arruebarruena. In the next at bat, the next run was scored on a double by Yadir Orestes Mujica Diaz. Venezuela then added insurance runs in the sixth and eighth inning, both via homeruns. In the sixth, Hernán Pérez led off with a homerun. And in the eighth, Robinson David Chirinos Gonzalez homered with two outs to make it a 6-3 score.

These were indeed insurance runs, as the suspense arose in the bottom of the ninth. With one out, pinch-hitter José Guillermo Aviles Difurno singled, then next batter Lisbàn Correa Sanchez homered off of reliever Andrés Machado, which narrowed the deficit to 6-5. As mentioned, Correa was a late addition to the Cuban roster. Hereafter, Gabriel Moya took over the Venezuelan pitching and he got a grounder. Another pitching change then followed, as Moisés Gómez was inserted and became Venezuela's seventh pitcher. He walked Yordanis Samon, which brought veteran powerhitter Alfredo Despaigne in the batter's box. The 34-year old Despaigne, who plays professionally in Japan for Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, sustained an injury to his left shoulder after making a hard swing on a 2-1 count and had to leave the game. With a 2-2 count, Rafael Viñales Alvarez took over the at bat as pinch-hitter. On a full count, Viñales hit a foul ball, but then grounded the ball to second baseman Ali Castillo, who forced out Samon to end the game and secure the minimal lead. For Venezuela, this was its first win against Cuba in a global tournament since the 1953 World Championship, which then was organized in Venezuela.

In the evening, the next two games were played.

In West Palm Beach, Canada shutout Colombia 7-0 and three pitchers threw a Combined No-Hitter. Canada opened the score in the first inning with two runs on a grounder by Eric Wood and a single by Daniel Pinero. The team took more distance via a 4-run rally in the second at bat. With the bases loaded, Jacob Robson delivered a baseclearing triple, then scored himself on a single by Connor Panas. In the seventh inning, Eric Wood homered with one out to lift the lead to 7-0.

Colombia initially only reached base in the top of the first inning. Canadian starter Andrew Albers hit Jeter Deion Downs Mitchell with a pitch with one out, but he was forced out on a grounder by next batter Jordan David Díaz Sandoval. The latter stranded on first base, as a grounder ended the at bat.

Hereafter, the Canadian pitching retired all Colombian batters in the next seven innings! Albers struckout seven batters in the seven innings he pitched. Two relievers then completed the No-Hitter. Brendan McGuigan struckout two of the three batters he faced in the eighth. Ben Onyshko then pitched the ninth inning. With one out, he walked Brayan Buelvas Durango. He became Colombia's first baserunner since the first inning after 23 consecutive batters had been retired. After he walked, Buelvas continued running to second base to become the first Colombian runner to get into scoring position. He then advanced to third base when a grounder by Derwin Dix Pomare Martínez ended in a throwing error. But hereafter, Onyshko struckout the next batter and a grounder ended the game to keep the No-Hitter intact!

In Port St. Lucie, the USA won 7-1 against Nicaragua. The American squad got its first two batters on base in the top of the first inning and they respectively scored on a sacrifice fly by Todd Frazier and a single by Eric Filia. Frazier played in the Major League since 2011 for six teams, including 13 games this season for Pittsburgh Pirates. He became a Free Agent on May 13. Nicaragua cut the deficit in half in the second inning, but had a chance to do some scoring. The team got the bases loaded with no outs. With one out, the lead runner scored on a force play-grounder, but hereafter (after having advanced to third base), the second runner got into a rundown and also was eliminated which ended thet at bat.

The USA took some more distance in the top of the fourth when Mark Kolozscary led off with a homerun. Another run was added in the sixth on a single by Eric Filia. The Americans then decided the game with a 3-run rally in the top of the ninth. The first run was scored on a single by Luke Williams (Triple-A Philadelphia Phillies), then two more on a single by Jarren Duran (Triple-A Boston Red Sox).

On May 20, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) announced that the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier was moved from Taiwan to Mexico, because of new restrictions imposed in Taiwan due to a surge of cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19). This tournament is the final Olympic Qualifying Tournament for this years Olympic Games that will be held in Japan in July/August. The winner of this event becomes the sixth and final team to qualify for the Olympic baseball-tournament.

The Baseball Final Qualifier initially was scheduled to be played April 1-5 last year in Taiwan, but in early March, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event was postponed to June. At that moment, the Olympic Games were still scheduled to be held in July. A few weeks later, it was announced that the Olympic Games were postponed to this year and with that, the Baseball Final Qualifier also was dropped from last years schedule. The tournament was postponed to this year and was scheduled for June 16-20 to be played in Taichung and Douliu in Taiwan, which also would be the playing sites last year.

On May 28, the WBSC confirmed that the new dates for the event are June 22-26 and that the games will be played in Puebla at Estadio de Béisbol Hermanos Serdán, which is the home-site of Pericos de Puebla of the Mexican League. June 20 and 21 are determined as practice days. Australia, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands have already qualified for participation in the Baseball Final Qualifier.

Four countries have qualified so far for the Olympic Baseball Tournament, being host Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea.

On May 28, the WBSC announced that ''the opening-round group assignments for the upcoming six-team Tokyo 2020 Olympic Baseball tournament will be based on World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Baseball World Rankings as per 28 June, 2021 - one month before the start of baseball at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games''. Group A will feature the highest-ranked team in the tournament, along with the fourth- and the fifth-highest ranked teams. Group B will feature the second-highest ranked team, the third-highest ranked team and the lowest-ranked team.

(May 31)

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