Heads up: I haven’t written about baseball in a while, so, just like the game in question, this won’t be anything near pristine. But I enjoyed it anyway
Despite being around just for the 2023 Spring Training games so far, the pitch clock has been a revolution for baseball. The divide between traditionalists and those willing to see change in the game is real. The clock’s sole purpose is to shorten contests, and it has. Baseball moves quicker now, which is a quick route to keep the sport alive as attention spans dwindle.
However, as it is a new concept and the players are still getting used to it, Major League Baseball abolished the timer for the World Baseball Classic, along with the ban on the shift. It was in Canada’s first match of the Classic, against Great Britain in Phoenix, where the impact of no clock was felt the most. Coupled with subpar pitching and defence, the countries combined for 26 runs – 18 for Canada, who exorcised the mercy rule – and in only seven innings to boot.
The first frame was not a trailer of what was to come on the day, no, that part was skipped and we dived right into the movie. The Brits took full advantage of Cal Quantrill’s off-day. Quantrill lasted 37 pitches, only mustering one strikeout when Harry Ford went down. The ball consistently got away from the Guardians’ righty, with plenty of balls heading way high of the strike zone. Whether it was an expectation as the number one guy – let’s not pretend here, we all wanted Nick Pivetta to be in this position – or not enough reps, I couldn’t tell you, but he was seriously lacking something. It certainly didn’t help that Team GB was looking like an all-star team of sprinters. The early pressure, a literal running start, reached a high point when they executed a double steal. Canadian catcher Bo Naylor could’ve had a far better day throwing to second, and in this particular instance, his decision-making was tested. A runner was headed to second with quite a leadoff and another runner on third was staring down the plate. Naylor threw to second but the ball bounced out of Otto Lopez’s glove, letting Britain get on the board first. Quantrill couldn’t shake this off. He was pulled with one out remaining, which was taken care of by Phillippe Aumont, who had to hustle to first to secure the inning didn’t end in a complete catastrophe.
Panic around Canada came to a screeching halt as the bottom of the first commenced and a dose of reality kicked in. After all, this was Great Britain. They are in their very first WBC and came in through the qualifier system. The only title they should be winning is least inspiring jerseys, for goodness sake! So, Edouard Julien took the game into his own hands by slamming a first-pitch home run to right-centre as the leadoff batter. It was a sweet swing, one of big league calibre and so smooth. The momentum belonged to the maple leaf, and Canada’s bats forced a horrid inning onto the Brits’ pitching. When Canada loaded the bases and scored two runs thanks to an unforced error by Nick Ward at first. He made a nice move but couldn’t find his mental balance as Abraham Toro was halfheartedly jogging to the bag. Freddie Freeman scored, and a wild throw to the plate had Tyler O’Neill slide in safe.
The slugfest ensued. Toro brought O’Neill in again. D’shawn Knowles brought out the teacup celebration after bringing Britain back within one. By now, the game had been going on for well over an hour. It was at best an example of meaningful baseball running its course and at worse a terrible game full of terrible plays and guys you’ve never heard of. It was the latter that ended up being more true.
Owen Caissie hit a bomb, 407 feet on a huge wall in deep centre, reminiscent of those glorious pre-pandemic days when baseballs were lighter and home run records were being smashed like nobody’s business. O’Neill, in the midst of a great day going 4-for-4, cleared the bases to set the score at 9-5. It was only the third segment. By the time the fourth inning came to a close, both nations were lacking, I don’t know, the desire to play any longer? The Canadian bullpen ended up shutting out Britain for the final three innings as the Canucks scored just two in that time. Remarkable, I know. But so is this tournament. Anything can happen as it is ultimately Springtime and players are still adjusting the baseball life again. Canada gets back in action against the USA tomorrow in the almighty test for a team looking to escape pool play for the first time ever.
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