SEE ALSO: WBC Rosters/Schedule
NEW YORK—The fourth and final qualifier for the 2017 World Baseball Classic began Thursday with a day-night doubleheader at MCU Park, home of the short-season Mets’ affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones. The four-day modified double elimination tournament will decide who earns the 16th and final spot in next year’s WBC.
Brazil blanked Pakistan 10-0 in seven innings in the opener, a game shortened by the early termination rule.
Playing on a sun-baked field in front of a sparse crowd, Hall of Famer Barry Larkin’s club struck first in the bottom of the third. Seventeen-year-old center fielder Gabriel Maciel (2-for-4 with a walk), who played in the Diamondbacks system this year, led off with a single against Pakistan starter Inayat Ullah Khan.
The speedy switch-hitter stole second on the next pitch. Irait Chirino followed with an infield single, advancing Maciel to third. The ground ball up the middle appeared destined for the outfield but a nice play by second baseman Faqir Hussain ranging to his right saved a potential run, one of many sound defensive plays made early on by an inexperienced Pakistan team with little to no exposure on an actual baseball diamond.
“In Pakistan we don’t have a baseball field,” manager Syed Fakhar Ali Shah said. “We have soccer grounds over there, so the bounce of the ball is totally different.”
Leonardo Reginatto (7-for-12 in the 2012 qualifying tournament) drove in the game’s first run with a fielder’s choice, a grounder to short that looked like an easy double-play ball. Hussain was taken out by a sliding Chirino at second, forcing an errant throw which was cleanly scooped by first baseman Jawad Ali; the second athletic scoop by Ali in as many batters.
Dante Bichette Jr., who was drafted 51st overall by the Yankees in 2011 and played with Double-A Trenton this season, lined an RBI triple into the right-field corner to give Brazil a 2-0 lead. His father Dante Sr., a four-time All-Star in his big league career, was in attendance along with his mother and grandparents.
“My mom was born in Brazil,” Bichette said. “I’m blessed, and really humbled and thankful for the opportunity.”
Designated hitter Reinaldo Sato singled to left to extend the lead to 3-0.
After having trouble getting many balls out of the infield during batting practice, Pakistan began the game with a leadoff single by Muhammad Sumair Zawar. The next hitter struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt. Zawar, who seemed unsure on whether the ball should have been ruled dead, was then thrown out trying to return to first base. This was the first of several fundamental mistakes made by a team with no affiliated players on its roster.
“We learned more today,” Shah said. “The guys feel they can do better.”
Pakistan managed just four hits over seven frames, including three doubles (two by Hussain), but played a better game than the final line showed. For a nation known more for a different sport that uses a bat and ball, their efforts did not go unnoticed by the opposing manager.
“I was impressed overall. I was impressed with the bat speed of some of the hitters,” Larkin said. “It’s a cricket country. They were able to get on top of some pitches up in the zone. That surprised me.”
Dante’s brother Bo, drafted by Toronto in the second round this past June, singled and advanced to second on a throwing error by Pakistan third baseman Zubair Nawaz to start the fourth. After advancing to third on a groundout, the younger Bichette scored on a single by Lucas Rojo to extend Brazil’s lead to 4-0.
The 18-year-old excelled in 22 games for the GCL Blue Jays, batting .427 with four home runs and 35 RBIs with a 1.183 OPS.
“Me and my brother both love the guys and we’re very excited for the opportunity to play with each other also,” Dante said after the game. “It’s the first time that’s ever happened.”
Dante’s one-out single in the fifth chased Khan, charged with five runs (four earned) on nine hits and one walk in 4 1/3 innings.
Following a strikeout, Cuban-born Juan Carlos Muniz hit a line drive to right-center field off of reliever Ihsan Ullah. Zawar misplayed it off the bat in center and couldn’t regroup, jumping in the air as the ball sailed past him for an improbable inside-the-park home run for the 40-year-old Muniz and giving Brazil a 6-0 advantage.
Brazil starter Jean Tome, who spent time in the Seattle organization from 2007-09 (7-6, 4.57 ERA over 33 minor league games), earned the win with 5 1/3 innings of three-hit ball.
Tome was replaced in the sixth by 15-year-old Brazilian native Eric Pardinho, the youngest player on either roster.
“I’m very glad to have this opportunity to have pitched for my country,” Pardinho said through a translator. “Although it was just one inning it was a great experience.”
Brazil ended things early with a four-run seventh against Ullah and reliever Asrar Ahmad, including a bases loaded walk by catcher Luis Paz. The 20-year-old, who entered the game as a defensive replacement, compiled an .847 OPS this season for Rookie-level Ogden in the Dodgers system.