Australia has been eliminated from the 2013 World Baseball Classic in disappointing fashion, having lost all three of its first-round games in what was widely regarded as the toughest of the four pools drawn....
In dropping all three of its scheduled games, Australia failed to improve upon - or even emulate - its performance at the 2009 tournament, where a first-round win against Mexico guaranteed automatic inclusion for this event. Although its opposition does not appear overly daunting at this early stage, Australia will have to negotiate a qualifying process to be assured of a berth at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Playing a polished all-round brand of baseball against a host nation drawing massive and raucous crowd support, Australia incurred a Game One 1-4 loss against Chinese Taipei, a vastly improved unit to the team that faltered early in the 2009 event yet which remains undefeated this time around.
Conceding early runs – as it did throughout the three games – Australia remained well in the contest from that point and was given a glimmer of hope when Stefan Welch slapped a home run in the seventh for one of his team’s meagre total of five hits.
Victoria’s Andy Russell and Adam Bright threw impressive scoreless stints as Australia rang the pitching changes after the Chris Oxspring start.
Scoring – or lack thereof - was again the issue in Game Two, after Korea took to Australian starter Ryan Searle and held a four-run lead after the second, a break that proved more than enough in support of quality world-class pitching that gave nothing away – despite the Aussies stranding nine runners on base.
After the initial assault, six pitchers called from the Australian bullpen did an effective job in keeping the lid on the scoring, although our own offence was stifled aside from Mike Walker and Tim Kennelly with two knocks apiece as the Koreans – the world’s fourth-ranked baseball nation - ran out 6-0 winners.
Still a rough chance pre-game of advancing to the second round, Australia was off to a disastrous start in today’s Game Three clash with Netherlands, a surprise winner over Korea over the weekend.
With his side needing to keep the Dutch scoreless – or at least close to it – Dushan Ruzic was under the pump as a string of hits combined with some short ball and a couple of walks to glean four early runs.
While Oxspring settled the ship with a scoreless five innings for Australia, evergreen Netherlands starter Robbie Cordermans scattered two hits in an impeccable start and it was not until the seventh that Australia scored on a two-out Brad Harman single – too little too late for the Aussies, who could again manage just a handful of hits again led by Mike Walker with two.
Amassing just nineteen hits over three games – for a paltry two runs to their opponents’ fourteen – offence was the major shortcoming for a team that played solid, often brilliant defence and was very well-served by a bullpen that was quite outstanding in keeping Australia in every contest after less than satisfactory starts.
While the Australian squad will head home winless in this year’s Classic, the fourth, fifth and seventh-placed nations may conceivably finish in a three-way go for the top two placings – should Korea beat Chinese Taipei in the final pool game.
For Australia, the final result of our third appearance at the Classic – although disappointing – is a reminder of the high quality of baseball played by nations in which the sport is entrenched into lifestyle and draws far greater government and corporate funding and support than in our Down Under version.
The fact that Australia continues to fight well above its weight and continues to produce players of world standard – more of whom, if available, may have made a difference in Taiwan – is testament to the development programmes and the positive leadership shown in a country of modest population where baseball does not command the attention that many of us hope that it might.
The Australian squad should rightly hold its collective head high in the knowledge that it did all that it reasonably might to prepare itself for this tournament and to again acquit itself so very well on the world baseball stage – notwithstanding the disappointing outcome of three tough contests.
Head Coach Jon Deeble – who would be as deflated as anyone to have not enjoyed playing success after so much of the game plan was translated into action - summed it up with this succinct comment prior to the Netherlands game:
“It will be another tough one, but I have faith in these kids.”
“They are a great bunch. We should all still be very proud of them.”