There was nothing more Team Canada could have asked for from Andrew Albers.
The 35-year-old lefthander and national team veteran took the mound for his squad on Monday night and was nearly perfect in Canada’s 7-0 combined no-hitter over Colombia to open its World Baseball Softball Confederation Baseball Americas Qualifier tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Albers kept Colombia off the board for seven innings—the Twins farmhand hit one batter with a pitch in the opening frame, walked none and struck out seven—and was helped by a scoreless inning each from relievers Brendan McGuigan and Ben Onyshko to complete the no-hit bid. Canada’s southpaw had everything working in his start, and was backed by a strong all-around effort to the early victory.
“Obviously a good way to start a tournament,” Albers said. “It was a good game. It’s really nice when the offense goes out and puts up six runs for you, and they played a great defense behind me, so all in all it’s a great night for us and a great start.”
Added Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt: “I can’t say enough about (Albers). He commanded the strike zone, changed speeds, had the other hitters off-balance, and when they did put the ball in play, we defended very well.”
The Canadian defense was punctuated by a web gem of a catch in center field by Tyson Gillies, while left fielder Jacob Robson did the bulk of the damage at the dish, driving in three with a 3-for-4 day highlighted by a bases-clearing triple. Third baseman Eric Wood hit Canada’s first home run of the tournament, a moonshot in the seventh to give the home team its final advantage.
In his 14th season of professional baseball—currently at Triple-A St. Paul—Albers has been a mainstay member of Team Canada. The North Battleford, Saskatchewan native has two Pan Am Games gold medals, and did everything he could on Monday to help his squad on its path to an Olympic berth.
“He’s a veteran player and someone who we lean on,” Whitt said. “He’s a guy who has been playing a little bit of ball, so we could get some innings out of him, which we did. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever pulled a pitcher who had a no-hitter going, but he had reached 90 pitches … He had no stressful innings, so it was very easy for me to extend him that one last inning, and he’ll be prepared for his next start.”
Albers cruised through his seven innings, throwing 66 of his 90 pitches for strikes and getting five straight strikeouts to start Colombia’s lineup the second time through the order. Kellin Deglan was behind the dish for the entirety of the no-hitter, stealing a couple of extra strikes and doing the pitch-calling for his hurlers.
“Deglan did a great job behind the plate,” Albers said. “He called a great game and did a really good job framing some tight pitches, so we got some calls that way. I was able to pound the outer half of the zone and miss some contact early, and that really helped open up the lineup a little bit the second time through, and we switched sides of the plate. The fastball command was really good, and we worked off that.”
By the end of the second inning, Canada had given Albers a six-run advantage and more than enough cushion for him to continue comfortably on the mound against a lineup that lacked familiarity with the lefty.
“We had some really good at-bats, really worked some counts, and then (Robson) came up with a big hit with the bases loaded to give us a little bit of cushion,” Albers said. “Any time you get that lead it makes it a little bit easier as a pitcher to go out and be more aggressive and really force contact.
“Most of those guys, they haven’t seen me, so you get to be a little bit more aggressive early on, and I worked from that once I got to see their swings. Obviously they have a good lineup over there, and I was just fortunate to get some weak contact, and then we played great defense tonight.”
Canada will continue its bid in the qualifier with a matchup against Cuba on Tuesday night, before taking on Venezuela on Wednesday afternoon to conclude Group B play. After group play concludes, the top two finishers from each group will advance to the Super Round. The team with the best Super Round record will earn a spot in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.