Great Britain Scare Jolts Team USA in action at the World Baseball Classic

The USA fell early to huge underdogs in their WBC opener, putting the dangers of tournament baseball front and center.

PHOENIX — Chaminade University, Appalachian State, Leicester City and Milan High, you can turn off the light. The company is not coming.

For two improbable innings Saturday night in the World Baseball Classic, a baseball team from Great Britain, a kingdom with one baseball facility and using a civil engineer as its first pitcher out of the bullpen, tried to join the most unlikely of upset winners. in team sports by taking a lead over Team USA and its $2 billion worth of players. It was half past two in the morning across the pond, after closing time in the London pubs, when Great Britain led the most expensive team ever assembled, 1–0.

“It’s not like soccer,” Team USA coach Mark DeRosa said. “Bigger, faster, stronger doesn’t necessarily win.”

The older guys eventually won, 6-2, in a game that shouldn’t have been close. As Great Britain manager Drew Spencer said, “I don’t think anyone expected this game to be this close—except us.”

What the game did was put Team USA on alert. In the WBC, every game is a trap game. This is a baseball tournament. Let your guard down and a loss hits you fast. The USA escaped with a win learning that lesson, which is timely considering what awaits the team on Sunday night. Chase Field is sold out when Team USA takes on Mexico, a team fighting for pool survival after blowing their opener in a brutally tense game against Colombia. The world is expected to be stronger for the Mexicans than the Americans. Angels pitcher Patrick Sandoval will start for Mexico, bound by the usual 65-pitch limit in the first-round game.

It’s not like Team USA took their opening game lightly. Adam Wainwright, who homered off Dodgers outfielder Trace Thompson on a cliffhanger two batters into the game, said the atmosphere was the equivalent of playoff baseball. Kyle Schwarber blasted a three-run homer in the fourth that put the USA up 5-1. Sighs of relief could be heard in the US dugout.

Thompson’s solo shot in the first inning gave Great Britain an early lead.

Chris Coduto/USA TODAY Sports

Mike Trout was hitless, but stole a base – diving headfirst into second – to tie his 2022 total. It was his first stolen base since last July, when his back started playing tricks on him.

No, the game was more about the stability of tournament baseball than who was “ready” or who had the best roster.

As baseball hotbeds go, the UK can lay claim to the invention of rounders, baseball’s predecessor, but not much else. Oh, there is a baseball facility in England. Farnham Park is located in Slough, the home turf of Richard of Cornwall and a bustling medieval town just outside of London. In 2017, Farnham Park added Home Plate Bar & Kitchen to the clubhouse facilities. Its purpose is to provide “a dedicated space for players and spectators to eat, drink, relax and socialize [sic] at baseball and softball events.” Now, let’s borrow that idea on this side of the pond: Raise a Guinness or two after the game with Mookie Betts, Trout and Paul Goldschmidt, the three MVPs atop the USA lineup.

The three MVPs went 2-for-12 against Great Britain. The trout smelt twice. Betts stepped up to third base, something he didn’t do all last season.

“They had some guys sitting 88-89 [mph]DeRosa said. “A lot of guys aren’t used to seeing that. Mike was a bit out of sorts. Mookie was a bit sidelined.”

Great Britain smartly remained at strike speed against the big bats of the USA.

Okay, to be honest, it wasn’t a great plan. They threw as hard as they could. Three of Great Britain’s top four pitchers were:

  • Starting pitcher Vance Worley, 35, who last threw a major league pitch in 2017, spent two years out of baseball and posted a 4.89 ERA in independent ball last year. Worley qualifies for the Great Britain team because his mum, Shirley (yes, ladies and gentlemen, Shirley Worley), was born in Hong Kong. Worley touched 91 mph, but in the second inning the scoreboard listed his fastball as a changeup, at 86 and 87 mph. He skillfully kept the game under control.
  • Reliever Jake Esch, 32, who for the past five years has worked as a civil engineer and gives pitching and hitting lessons at Home Plate Baseball in Peachree City, Ga. He hasn’t played pro ball in five years. His mother was born in Cornwall, England, where he likes to say that her friends have no idea what baseball is. Esch hit a third-inning bunt to retire Jeff McNeil, the National League batting champion who hit ninth-ninth!-for the first time in his career.
  • Reliever Daniel Cooper, 36, who is the gray (literally) of Great Britain. He last played in affiliated baseball 12 years ago, after which he toiled for the Karlskoga Bats in Sweden and the Brisbane Bandits in Australia for two seasons. Cooper was throwing 84 mph.


Schwarber’s three-run homer in the fourth inning gave the USA some relief in the WBC opener.

Chris Coduto/USA TODAY Sports

There will be nights in this WBC when Team USA steamrolls the opposition, invoking the 10-run mercy rule. The composition is very wild. Tim Anderson, Pete Alonso, Bobby Witt Jr. and Cedric Mullins remained on the bench against Great Britain.

Last night was not one of those breakout games. It’s not the first game, not when, as DeRosa pointed out, players only have about 20 spring-loaded bats under their belts and not when independent throwaways and civil engineers are throwing 87-mph salad at the plate. But it is coming and now that the danger from Great Britain has passed, it will come sooner rather than later.

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