By Walter Villa
JUPITER, Fla.—After six failed tries, South Africa won its first-ever World Baseball Classic game Saturday—but it wasn’t easy.
The game, which had been scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Friday, finally ended 21 hours and three rain delays later as South Africa defeated France, 5-2, in 11 innings. The actual time of the game, sans delays, was 3:57.
“This was a very large and memorable win for South Africa,” said manager Rick Magnante. “You never forget your first, whether it’s your first girlfriend, prom or fill in the blank.”
Paul Bell, who hit a two-run double in the 11th to snap a 2-2 tie, was the hero for South Africa, which advanced to Saturday’s 7 p.m. elimination game against Spain. The winner of that game will play Israel on Sunday at 5 p.m., with a trip to the WBC main draw in March at stake.
Bell said the win was a long time coming for South Africa.
“We had a chance to beat Canada in the (2006 WBC),” he said, “but we let it slip away.”
France, playing in the WBC for the first time, is still looking for its first win. The French were dismissed after losing their only two games.
South Africa was in danger of losing Saturday when France loaded the bases with just one out in the 10th inning. France’s Rene Leveret had hit a one-out double, and, after an intentional walk, advanced to third on a single to right by Carlos Hereaud.
That brought up Frederic Hanvi, who struck out looking on a 3-2 high fastball that could have ended the game had it been up another inch. South Africa’s Dylan De Meyer, who got himself in this mess, got out of the inning by striking out the next batter, Marc Ramirez, who swung and missed at a 2-2 fastball.
“We dodged a bullet there,” Magnante said. “But credit our pitching staff. We didn’t hit the ball like we’re capable, especially early, but our pitching was solid.”
Despite the defeat, France manager Jim Stoeckel said he thought his team exceeded expectations. France has only one player—catcher Andy Paz (Athletics)—who is affiliated with a major league organization.
Stoeckel said he thought Hanvi “probably should have swung” at the last pitch he got. “Fred is a pull guy,” the manager said, “and De Meyer made a good pitch away.”
Stoeckel also said he thought his team handled the rain delays well. “They had fun in the clubhouse,” he said. “It’s been a blast.”