Simply put, last night’s WBC qualifying game between Panama and Brazil was groundbreaking. Scrappy, young Brazil beat a veteran MLB-star laden Panamanian team that was playing in its home stadium. Brazil’s national baseball program has now elevated to new heights never seen before, and it now seems it might get better after the way Brazil handled Panama last night.
Brazil got production from the top of its lineup and clutch pitching throughout the game from 5 different pitchers. Brazil manager Barry Larkin did a great job of managing this team and they responded in kind by playing 9 innings of an aggressive blend Japanese, Cuban and American baseball that can only be called Brazilian.
Panama had a pretty good looking team on paper, but their hitting didn’t really show up last night. A lot of credit for that can be given to Murilo Gouvea, who chewed up 3 1/3 innings in the middle of the game to keep from Panama getting any more runs. Gouvea, Noris Chacon, University of Utah Ute Wesley Kondo and Thyago Vieira were able to keep the Panamanian hitters off balance.
What a sight it was to see Ruben Tejada, Carlos Ruiz and Carlos Lee get tied up on a mixture of breaking, off speed, even sidearm (Kondo) junk coming from the Brazilian bullpen, but it worked, and Brazil was able to score a few runs thanks to top of the order hitters Paulo Orlando (KC AAA) and Leonardo Reginatto (TB A) as well as Cuban-born outfielder Juan Carlos Muniz.
Brazil was not without some of its own potentially devastating mistakes, but they were able to work through them and not let Panama blow an inning wide open. Brazil probably would have scored a couple more runs if their third base coach, Tiago Caldeira, hadn’t mismanaged two key baserunning scenarios involving Reinaldo Sato and Yan Gomes. Also, rising White Sox pitching prospect Andre Rienzo started the game and was able to keep his composure through the first 3 2/3 innings despite walking 5 hitters, giving up 4 hits, throwing a couple of wild pitches and two errant throws to first base. Indeed, it had to be an adrenaline rush for Rienzo start the game for Brazil. 25,000-seat Rod Carew Stadium was obviously pro-Panamanian and could get loud when the crowd of 13,700 got into the moment. Fortunately for Brazil, they were able to keep those moments few and far between.
In fact, the Panamanian fans were justifiably disappointed, and maybe even a bit embarrassed, in their own players. You got the sense their team showed up thinking they could put on a hitting fest against Brazil, and next thing you know Panama is behind in the 3rd and 5th innings.
Now Brazil plays the winner of tonight’s Nicaragua vs. Colombia game, and given their performance in their last most important game ever, they might be able to take on either one of those teams and advance to the next round of the WBC.