Day one of the Sydney Qualifier took place last night/early this morning with one game going as expected and one mild upset.
First of all, I apologize for the boxscore links. The boxscores available at worldbaseballclassic.com are an exercise in extreme frustration and I haven't been able to find any more traditional boxscores for the games anywhere. I would suggest skipping them.
Australia 11, The Philippines 1 (7 innings, mercy rule)
Behind a 4 for 5, 3 RBI night by Triple-A Twins shortstop James Beresford, the Australian national team put on a show for their home fans and easily dispatched the team representing the Philippines, 11-1 after a seven-run bottom of the seventh inning ended the game by the mercy rule.
The Philippines got off to a great start in this game as they took an early 1-0 lead off of Australian starter Steven Kent, who recently signed a minor league deal with the Braves. Eric Farris, who also played for the Twins Triple-A affiliate this past summer, led off the game with a single and scored on a two-out single by Brady Conlan, who is a senior at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
But the Southern Thunder (yes, that's what the Australians call their baseball team) struck back in the bottom of the inning and tied the game on a single by former Cardinals and Red Sox farmhand Stefan Welch. Australia would tack on another run in the second inning on an RBI single by Beresford.
Kent would settle down after the first inning and dominated the Philippine lineup for the rest of his time out on the mound, finishing after throwing six innings and allowing just the one run on four hits. Kent struck out seven and walked only one.
Meanwhile, the Philippines kept the game close for a while by turning to major league veteran reliever Clay Rapada, who entered the game in the third inning when starter J.R. Bunda left with an injury. Rapada kept the Aussies off the board in the third and fourth innings, but exited in the fifth after allowing a two-run double to former Dodgers outfielder Trent Oeltjen.
With their best pitcher out of the game, the Southern Thunder would erupt for seven runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and the game would end on the mercy rule.
In the first game of the World Baseball Classic 2017 qualifiers, South Africa pulled out their trump card, Mariners prospect Dylan Unsworth, and rode him all the way to a lopsided win over New Zealand.
Unsworth, who pitched for Double-A Jackson last season, was magnificent for eight shutout innings against a New Zealand lineup that could only manage two hits off Unsworth. Unsworth pitched to weak contact the entire game and relied on his defense, led by Pirates Triple-A shortstop Gift Ngoepe. Unsworth retired the first 11 batters he faced before a two-out double in the fourth inning by New Zealand center fielder Max Brown. Unsworth struck out the side in the eighth inning, but he only struck out one batter in the seven innings before that, which allowed him to finish the eight innings without exceeding the 85 pitch limit. (His final pitch count was 89 as pitchers are allowed to finish facing the current batter after reaching the limit.)
Despite Unsworth's dominance, the game was relatively close until the ninth inning. South Africa scored three runs in the third inning when DH Brett Willemburg singled home third baseman Jonathan Phillips. After the next South African pitcher was hit by a pitch to load the bases, two runs would score on a wild pitch and a throwing error by the catcher.
The game remained 3-0 until the ninth inning when South Africa tacked on four insurance runs in the top of the inning. With Unsworth out of the game in the bottom of the ninth, New Zealand got a run off of reliever Gareth Cahill who gave up a single, hit a batter and then after a force out, walked the next two runners to force in a run. Then Cahill left for reliever Jared Elario who got shortstop Scott Campbell to hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game and give South Africa the first win of the tournament and only their second win ever in WBC play.
Tonight: New Zealand and the Philippines will take on each other in an elimination game tonight at 8 pm Central time. That game, as well as all other qualifiers, is available for free online viewing at mlb.com. Afterwards, South Africa will take on Australia for a trip to the Qualifier finals. That game starts at 2:30 Chicago time and will be televised on the MLB Network as well as online at mlb.com.