Home runs by Carlos Lee and Ruben Rivera gave Panama the cushion they needed to advance to the bracket final. They'll have to win the rematch with Brazil to advance to the World Baseball Classic in March.
In a wild, high-scoring game, host nation Panama outlasted Colombia, 9-7 to advance to the Panama City Qualifier final against Brazil.
The game looked to be a blowout early, as Panama scored five runs in the second inning. Starter Karl Triana, who played rookie ball for the Diamondbacks this past season, was pulled after allowing back-to-back singles to start the inning. He was relieved by former White Sox farmhand Ronald Ramirez, but Ramirez ran into trouble early as he allowed a one-out triple to left fielder Isaias Velasquez, plating two. (Velasquez played Double-A ball for the Rays in 2012.) Velasquez scored on a bunt single by shortstop Ruben Tejada and then one batter later, Carlos Lee hit a two-run home run to make it 5-0.
In the fourth inning, Panama made it 6-0 on a single by catcher Carlos Ruiz. But in the bottom of the inning, Panamanian starter Alberto Acosta loaded the bases with no outs on a walk to Edgar Renteria, a hit batter to Donovan Solano and a single by Jolbert Cabrera. After a sac fly made it 6-1, Acosta gave up a double to Reynaldo Rodriguez, making to score 6-2 and putting runners on second and third with one out. Acosta was pulled for Braves minor leaguer Ernesto Silva. Silva allowed a sacrifice fly to get the Colombia to within three, but then got out of the inning with no further damage.
Colombia added another run in the bottom of the fourth inning to make the score 6-4, but Panama tacked on another run in the top of the fifth to get the lead back to three.
It looked like the game was over in the seventh inning when former Yankee Ruben Rivera hit a solo home run to put Panama back up 8-4, and then Panama scored one more time in the inning. But Colombia scored three times in the eighth inning on a Reynaldo Rodriguez single and a two-run double by Indians prospect Giovanny Urshela off of Cubs reliever Manuel Corpas. But Corpas settled down after that and retired to next four batters to end the game and set up the rematch with Brazil.
Former Yankees and Red Sox reliever Ramiro Mendoza got the win for Panama, retiring the first seven batters he faced until he was ejected after hitting Colombian center fielder Steve Brown. Ramirez did not have a strikeout. Earlier in the seventh inning, Colombian manager Eduardo Perez was ejected.
For Panama, shortstop Ruben Tejada was 2 for 4 with a walk, a run scored and one batted in Left fielder Isaias Velasquez was 2 for 5 with a triple and three RBI. He also scored that one run. Third baseman Angel Chavez, who played ten games with the Giants back in 2005, was 2 for 5 and scored a run.
Lee was 1 for 5 with his two-run home run and Rivera was 1 for 4 with his solo home run.
Colombia was paced by right fielder Jolbert Cabrera and first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez, who were both 2 for 4. Cabrera scored twice and Rodriguez had two RBI and scored once.
Panama's win moves them on to the winner-take-all bracket final with surprising Brazil, who beat Panama 3-2 in the qualifier's first game, which is tonight (Monday) at 7 pm Chicago time. You can watch the game on-line at worldbaseballclassic.com or on the MLB Network. As before, Kane County Cougars play-by-play man Wayne Randazzo will be at the microphone along with Angels broadcaster Jose Mota.
Tune in. It's going to be the last baseball game that counts until March.