TAICHUNG, Taiwan — Panama came into its Saturday matchup in Pool A of the World Baseball Classic needing a win to keep its dreams of making it to Tokyo alive, while a loss by Italy would put its back against the wall. So, of course, they both played like their tournament lives were on the line.
But after a tight, defensive pitchers’ duel, Panama came out on top, 2-0.
A combination of four pitchers put zeros on the board for Team Panama – starting with former Minor League pitcher Harold Arauz. The righty went four innings – just as his manager Luis Ortiz had hoped pregame – striking out three, while giving up just two hits. Humberto Mejía went two more and hard-throwing Alberto Baldonado went two more. Javy Guerraclosed things out in the ninth.
But for the most part, Italy’s staff matched up with Panama’s. Starter Michele Vassalotti went four innings, also struck out three and also gave up just two hits. Except, one of the those hits was a mammoth homer – with an even more mammoth bat flip – by Dodgers prospect Jose Ramos.
Perhaps the best was Nicky Lopez’s full-out dive and flip to start a rally-killing double play in the fourth. All three plays saved runs.
Panama also had a shining defensive play from one its biggest stars here this week, Rubén Tejada. The former Met dove into the hole on a hard grounder by Miles Mastrobuoniand fired for the out at first. Italy challenged the play because, well, it was almost impossible to believe someone could do something like that.
Panama has completed play and now has a 2-2 record. Italy moves to 1-2 with one game left against the Netherlands (2-0). Both teams are still technically alive to advance. Italy plays the Dutch on Sunday (7 a.m. ET, FS2).
Chinese Taipei (1-1) and Cuba (1-2) are also in Pool A. Each team faces the other four in round-robin play, with the pool’s winner and runner-up advancing to the quarterfinals in Tokyo against the top teams from Pool B.