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Dispatches from the World Baseball Classic Qualifier: Day two

In which DRB’s Malinowski dons a straw hat, grabs a Coney Island hot dog, and settles in for a few rounds of World Baseball Classic qualifiers

Pakistan vs. Great Britain flag ceremony
Ian Malinowski

There was one odd play from yesterday that I forgot to write about. In the seventh inning, Israel had loaded the bases with one out when Cody Decker hit a high fly ball to left field. The wind was blowing just a bit across the field from the left, and that was all that prevented the grand slam.

The British left fielder, Reshard Munroe, made a heroic leaping catch against the wall. It was difficult to see exactly what had happened, and I think there was some question as to whether he had caught it off the wall, but each runner tagged up and advanced one base.


As the umpires conferenced, Ike Davis, now standing at second base, decided to trot back to first.

I was watching the flight of the possible grand slam, not the baserunning of the man on first, so I don’t really know what happened, but I imagine Davis went most of the way to second and then couldn’t tell if the catch had been made or not. Then he stood for a bit on second, still unsure. But eventually he figured out it was a catch, and returned to first, purposefully showing no urgency so as not to alert the British infielders (who probably hadn’t seen whether he had tagged up or not, either).

I think that at any time, when the play seemed over, if the Brits had thrown behind Davis at first base they could have doubled him off.

The Great Britain manager came out for a discussion with the umpires, but I don’t really think he had a case. Although, what would have happened if a runner had called for and been granted time while Davis was still standing on second base?

I’m on the train now for the Brazil-Israel game. It’s the first take of the “big” matchup in this qualifier. At stake is the ability to rest pitchers on Saturday before what will likely be a Brazil-Israel final on Sunday. Will there be a crowd, or do even the Israel fans not come out for a Friday noon game?

No, not much of a crowd. But there’s a school group from PS 770 in Crown Heights/Brownsville behind me, loudly rooting for Brazil and booing Israel. Is there drama brewing between them and the yeshiva students who sang the Israeli anthem?

Israeli national anthem
Ian Malinowski

(And yes, the children from the yeshiva are actually children—unlike the “Pakistani American Children’s Association.”)

The energy in this game is much higher. Partly because both teams know this is one that could actually go against them. Partly because those Brazilian-rooting Brooklyn kids behind me are great fans. And there are some actual, older Brazilians here, happy to rile them up. The Jewish children are in a section far away from me down the first base line, so proximity to cuteness wins. I’m rooting for Brazil.

Israel’s starting pitcher, Corey Baker, works fast. Seems to command his fastball, has a slider, and has fooled people with his changeup.

The between-innings contest this time was “Can you name seven countries in 30 seconds?” PS 770 aced it.

Things shouted from the crowd:

  • “He’s throwing a Shabbas meatball! Let’s go!” -An Israel fan
  • “Your strike zone is the size of my kitchen.” -One of the teachers at PS 770, also an Israel fan

I’m not actually sure what to make of that second one. In context, he thought the ump had called a strike against an Israel batter that should have been a ball inside, meaning that his kitchen was the size of a large strike zone. But a New York kitchen is very small, so I could see this meaning the other thing.

We’ve gotten a new Brazilian pitcher in the bottom of the fifth, Murilo Gouva. He’s a long, lanky fellow who likes to throw fastballs to the bottom of the zone, and to drop slow curves into the zone for strikes. Kind of a fun approach to watch. We’ll see if he can get the curve low once Israel knows it’s coming.

Answer from two innings later: yes, he can get it down, but when he does, no one goes fishing for it. He got by, but he’s not someone I’d let face an order twice.

PS 770 seems to have left, and now the yeshiva students are chanting “Do the best you can!” My fandom is wavering.

Barry Larkin, Brazil’s manager, looks like at age 52 he could still step onto the field and be the best player in this tournament. Really. Not joking or exaggerating.

In the end it came down to one misplayed fly ball. Both teams had only three hits. Both teams worked the count and put men on base (four walks for Israel, five for Brazil). And both teams’ pitching staffs came up big when they needed to.

But in the bottom of the fourth inning, Nate Freiman lead off with a line drive to left field that Irait Chirino, with the sun in his eyes, had trouble tracking. He went back, turned both ways, and in the end let it go just above his glove for a double.

Definitely a tough play and not an error, but the kind of tough play that gets made seven times out of ten. Freiman advanced to third on an E3 when Ike Davis’s sharp ground ball ate up the first baseman, but he’d have advanced on the groundout as well. He came home on a tall Cody Decker fly ball.

That was the game’s only run.

Brazil’s best chance came in the sixth inning, when Chirino—who seems to be a patient hitter with a good understanding of the strike zone—took his second walk of the game to lead off the inning. Israeli shortstop Scott Burcham made a great sliding play, ranging to his right to keep Leonard Reginatto’s grounder on the infield and get the lead runner, but Reginatto promptly stole both second and third, while Dante Bichette worked a walk.

You’d think a sequence like that might fluster a pitcher, but Jeremy Bleich more than held it together, striking out Luis Paz on only three pitches, and then catching Juan Carlos Muñiz looking after an extended at bat to end the Brazilian rally.

Brazil is caught looking.
Ian Malinowski

Israel is now in the final on Sunday, and Brazil will need to play their way back in.

Other notes:

  • Brad Goldberg’s stuff still looks good to me.
  • Brazilian second baseman Lucas Rojo is really really small. He’s listed at 5’6”, 168 lbs. Slick fielder, but I’ll take a shot of caipirinha if he hits it off the infield.

Lunch at Nathan’s. This is the original, people.

Ian Malinowski

Now with Coney Island Lager on tap and smooth R&B over the PA.

And no, sir, I don’t want to buy a bootleg kung fu move DVD. Does anyone actually buy those bootlegs anymore now that the internet is a thing? If I were a better reporter I’d do a “the times are changing in this modern economy” feature on that whole industry.

Well, I tried to go to the Coney Island Museum. Yesterday the sign said it was closed Monday-Thursday but open Friday-Sunday. But now the Thursday hours are crossed out and replaced with “closed.”

Instead of a cultural experience, I’ll now need to take a walk on the beach.

Coney Island beach
Ian Malinowski

And have a drink out of a coconut in “Margarita Island.”

Margarita Island
Ian Malinowski

The sign says you have to go to the bar to get a shot of rum poured into your coconut. But if no one is looking, the coconut man will pour you the rum himself, pocket the $5, and save you the trouble of walking the extra 30 feet.

Things are rough here at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers.

I saw a guy in a TB cap, but as I walked up to say hi, I heard what the old guy on a bike who was talking at him was saying: “Now I’m no politician, but Osama bin Laden took them out.” I turned on my heel and instead got a flight of beer. Maybe I’ll see the TB cap guy in the stadium for game two.

Ian Malinowski

Blood Red Berliner Weisse—Some Berliner Weisses can be bracingly sour. This one is very mild. Pale red color, perfect for a hot day if you’re not a pilsner person.

Kettle Corn Cream Ale—Also mild, but has the thick mouthfeel of a cream ale. Slightly funky bitterness at the end. This one hits some aspects of the style bettter, but if I’m choosing between Brooklyn cream ales, I’d rather the Sixpoint Sweet Action with its crisper, cleaner hoppiness.

Freaktoberfest—The Oktoberfest Märzen is my favorite style of beer, so while I like a pumpkin beer as well, I’m not pleased that pumpkin has swamped the fall beer style over the past several years. But Coney Island Brewing does it very well. The pumpkin and the spicing is subtle, just adding a round note rather than screaming “pumpkin pie” in your face. Dark amber color, not super yeasty, but it does have a strong maltiness that stops just short of being smoked. It doesn’t have the same thick feel of the cream ale, but neither is it crisp. The malt and the pumpkin rounds out the hoppiness, sitting pleasantly on the tongue.

Super Freak—Now why would you go and take a perfectly good pumpkin Oktoberfest and concentrate it down? Too sweet at the start, too much like sawdust fresh off the bandsaw at the end. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

As the game starts, I realize that my “I don’t think Pakistan will get mercy ruled tomorrow” prediction is in trouble.

Yesterday, when the Pakistani starting pitcher Inayat Kahn was announced, his whole dugout gave a rowdy, supportive cheer. I thought they were just being enthusiastic, but now I realize it may also have been because in Pakistani terms, he’s a star. The Great Britain lineup isn’t be as daunting as the Brazilian one, but it quickly becomes clear that pitching depth is near the top of the list of the many things Pakistani baseball lacks (right there with real baseball fields to practice on).

Today’s starter, Muhammad Zohaib is tiny. He’s listed at 5’10”, 150 lbs., but I think even that’s a stretch. And while Kahn had worked the bottom of the strike zone with a diverse array of junk, Zohaib seems to lack that command and to mostly throw a fastball that’s not really all that fast.

The second time through the order is a struggle, and when Pakistan starts to make pitching changes for the third time through the British order, things get worse, not better. Great Britain was up by ten runs after five innings, but the mercy rule doesn’t kick in until the end of the seventh.

This about sums things up: Great Britain sent a man to the plate 43 times in seven innings. Pakistan only got 22 plate appearances.

If Pakistan’s goal was to not be mercy ruled in one of their two games here at the World Baseball Classic qualifier, they should have pitched their B team arms against Brazil and saved the better pitchers for game two.

But it’s worth remembering that that’s not what they’re here for. They’re a small group of guys trying to create the game of baseball in a country where it’s never existed before. Most have never played against even minor league talent before, and of course they’d want to come here and take their best shot.

Among the small number of Pakistani fans to come out to the game, they were a hit.

Fuzzy picture of Pakistan saluting the appreciative crowd
Ian Malinowski

And among the Brooklyn Cyclones season ticket holders I chatted with over the first couple days, there was consensus. Everybody shook their head at the baserunning and thought that they really couldn’t field. There was some low-key respect for the pitchers from day one, and a universal sentiment that “they played with heart.”

And I was relieved to find no trace of Islamophobia. Note to self: when the world seems like its going to hell in an hand-basket, and I worry that our country is being overcome by fear and our baser instincts, go watch baseball with some working class New Yorkers.

Oh, one final note on the night.

There’s a pair of Japanese scouts that was here here for the first three games. Japan takes international baseball very seriously, so yeah, of course they’d be here advance scouting their possible competition in the World Baseball Classic.

But the Japanese scouts were not in the stands for game two. I guess they don’t think they’ll be facing Pakistan or Great Britain, and on the outside chance that one of those two were to make it through, the Japanese are not concerned.

The stakes go up on Saturday, when Brazil and Great Britain will play for the second spot in the qualifier finals.