In what is a great sign for the WBC, both games in Mexicali were close and one was a thriller. None of the four games ended early by the mercy rule, also a great sign.
In the marquee game of day one of the qualifier, Team Mexico scored two runs in the first inning and then hung on for a surprisingly close 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic.
Mexico's runs came after Czech Republic starter Marek Cervenka walked Esteban Quiroz and Adrian Gonzalez with one out. A single by Mexicali native Jesus Castillo scored one run and then a sacrifice fly scored Gonzalez to make it 2-0.
Those were the last runs that Mexico would score, but fortunately for them, it was all they would need. Mexican starter Alejandro Soto dominated the Czech Republic for three innings, allowing no hits while striking out seven and walking only one. Mexico manager Edgar Gonzalez pulled Soto after only 48 pitches, which will allow him to pitch again in the tournament if necessary.
The Czech Republic got their only run with two outs in the eighth inning when Matej Hejma homered. It was one of only four hits the Czech team would get on the day. Oliver Perez would pitch the ninth inning for Mexico and retire the side in order.
In the first game of the Mexicali qualifier, Reds prospect Alex Blandino hit a walkoff two-run double in the bottom of the tenth inning to beat Team Germany 5-4.
Nicaragua took the lead in the bottom of the second inning when Blandino doubled off German starter Markus Solbach, scoring Rangers prospect Jairo Beras. Blandino then scored on a single by Renato Morales.
The game would stay 2-0 until the sixth inning when Athletics catching prospect Bruce Maxwell hit a three-run home run to give Team Germany the lead.
Germany still led 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth when Elmer Reyes singled home Omar Obregon with two outs to send the game into extras. Germany would then take a 4-3 lead in the top of the tenth when Ludwig Glaser doubled home Donald Lutz, who had walked to lead off the inning, with no outs. But Nicaragua then called on Reds pitching prospect Carlos Gonzalez to stop the bleeding and he got the final three outs of the inning without any further damage, setting up Blandino's heroics in the bottom of the inning.
The Czech Republic now takes on Germany in an elimination game today at 2:30 Central time. Mexico will play Nicaragua for a chance to go to the finals at 9:30.
Panama City Qualifier
The two favorites in the Panama City Qualifier both advanced. In the first game, Team Colombia beat Team Spain 9-2 and in the second game, the hosts Team Panama beat Team France by an identical 9-2 score.
Colombia scored a run in the first inning and added another one in the third before blowing the game open with three runs in the fifth inning to make it 5-0. Twins minor leaguer Reynaldo Rodriguez was 2 for 4 with a double, a walk and three runs scored. Colombia took advantage of Spain's miscues as they walked 12 times and Spain committed three errors.
Panama's win over France provided a good example of what can happen when a major leaguer takes the field against players with limited experience. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz hit two home runs including a solo home run in the third inning and a two-run blast in the fifth. Ruiz also had a sacrifice fly and a walk to go 2 for 2 with four RBI.
Panama also got a two-run home run from Padres prospect Javier Guerra in the fifth inning.
France will now take on Spain at 1 pm Central in an elimination game. Panama faces Colombia at 8 pm tonight in what should be a great game.
One interesting note from the broadcast of the France-Panama game. Team manager Eric Gagne revealed that 17 year old Melissa Mayeux almost made the team. That would have made Team France a lot more interesting. Maybe in 2021.