Aussie Bats Silent Again In Loss To Venezuela

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.–In its World Baseball Classic opener against
Italy, Australia could not do anything right offensively or
defensively. In their second game against Venezuela, the Aussies
figured out the pitching and defense, but offense eluded them once
again as they again managed only one hit and fell to Venezuela 2-0.

Venezuela
got all it could handle from the knuckleballing Phil Brassington and a
quartet of relievers, but because Australia failed to score for the
second straight game the favored Venezuelans were able to emerge
victorious and advance to the second stage of group play.

“We
held (Bob) Abreu, (Miguel) Cabrera and (Magglio) Ordonez to 1-for-12
tonight,” Australian manager Jon Deeble said. “We can do it with
pitching and defense, but we need to get better offensively . . . We
need to see the 96-97 mile an hour fastball that we don’t get a chance
to see.”

Brassington’s feel for his knuckler was shaky early
on. He walked leadoff hitter Omar Vizquel, who was subsequently thrown
out trying to steal second. He then surrendered a two-out single to
Bobby Abreu and a walk to Miguel Cabrera before retiring Magglio
Ordonez.

Ramon Hernandez homered to open the second-which
turned out to be enough for Venezuela–but Brassington settled down
after that as he retired nine of the next 11 hitters to take Australia
into the fifth.

The Aussies were once again helpless at the
plate as Venezuelan righthander Kelvim Escobar fanned four of the first
six hitters he faced and frequently touched 97 mph with his fastball.

Australia’s
only threat came in the fourth when Brad Harman (Phillies) led off with
Australia’s lone hit. He was erased on a bunt attempt by second baseman
Trent Durrington, but the second baseman promptly stole second, and
then third on ball four to first baseman Justin Huber.

“I
always have the green light and Escobar is pretty slow to the plate,”
the speedy Durrington said. “He is 1.6 (seconds from home to the plate)
so I knew I could steal on him when I got the appropriate lead.”

The
stage was perfectly set for Dave Nilsson, the most accomplished player
in the history of Australian baseball, to put the upset wheels in
motion, but the former all-star harmlessly grounded into a 4-6-3 double
play.

“It is one of those things that happens,” Deeble said.
“Obviously you would like to see him hit the ball into the gap there.
The coaches played a practice game the other day and I forgot how hard
it is to hit the ball.”

In the fifth, Brassington gave way
to Peter Moylan, a former Twins farmhand who rejuvenated his pitching
career last June by dropping his arm angle to low three-quarters. In
the process the pharmaceutical sales rep went from throwing in the
high-80s to the mid-90s. He showed his newfound velocity by fanning two
in the fifth and then Magglio Ordonez and Hernandez to open the sixth.

“I
got a couple of guys that don’t like the knuckleball, and when you go
from that to a sidearmer throwing 95-96, it is tough,” Venezuelan
manager Luis Sojo said.

Moylan, who is affectionately
referred to as “Wild Thing” by his Deeble in honor of Charlie Sheen’s
character in “Major League” because of his sideburns, glasses and
tattoos, lived up to the moniker Thursday.

He fanned two in
the fifth, then whiffed Ordonez and Hernandez to open the sixth. He
allowed a single to Juan Rivera and threw 11 straight balls to load the
bases and run the count to 3-0 on Vizquel. After getting two fastballs
over and forcing a foul ball, he walked Vizquel and forced in
Venezuela’s second and final run.

Like Moylan, Brassington
is a flamed out farmhand. Originally a fifth-round pick of the Royals
in 1993 out of Lamar, the 36-year-old saw his pro career end in the
independent Northern League in 2001 but had always fiddled around with
a knuckler.

He made some starts in pre-tournament exhibitions against Taiwan and proved himself worthy of a starting position.

“It
is a quantum leap for me,” said Brassington, who sells real estate for
a living. “I am still trying to deal with clients here on e-mail. Some
don’t know I am here.”

The Aussies would also get a
scoreless 1 1/3 innings from lefthander Adrian Burnside and a scoreless
inning apiece from righthander Phil Stockman and righthander Tristan
Crawford, who struck out Cabrera and Ordonez back-to-back (both
looking) on 12-to-6 curveballs that were as vicious as they were
identical.

While Australia did an excellent job of
preventing runs, it was not as though Venezuela lacked chances. The
Venezuelans left 14 men on base thanks to 13 walks issued by the
Australians.

In what amounts to poetic symmetry, the Aussies
fanned 13 times and remained scoreless for the tournament. Big leaguers
Tony Armas, Gustavo Chacin, Jorge Julio and Francisco Rodriguez
combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings of their own in which none allowed
a baserunner while fanning eight.

With the victory,
Venezuela earned second place in the pool and a trip to the second
round of pool play in Puerto Rico. Australia is left with a game on
Friday evening with Pool D champions the Dominican Republic. Though the
game is meaningless in the standings, it will give Australia another
opportunity to compete with the world’s best.

“Tonight was
great, but we have to take the next step,” Deeble said. “It was nice to
compete with them; now we have to beat them.”

International | #2006 #International Affairs #World Baseball Classic

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