Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Liveblog: Baseball: Canada vs. China

The overly-long recap of (most of) Canada's opening game against China follows. Once again, this is a Scott Richmond-Free Zone. Proceed at your own risk.

PREGAME (11:10 ET): A few recognizable names on the roster, if you're a Canadian baseball fan. Steve Green locked down the World Baseball Classic upset of the Americans with some pitch-perfect closing work. Adam Stern played a huge role in that game as well. Scott Thorman and Chris Reitsma have ML experience. Rheal Cormier is, shockingly, still active.

On a related note, one of the amusing parts of the 2004 Olympics was Simon Pond's spot in the Canadian lineup. Earlier that year he had a brief trial with your Toronto Blue Jays, so after the Athens games, baseball fans throughout Canada could make the joke that they had now watched Pond strike out in another time zone.

11:26, STILL PREGAME: We have video! But no audio. They're still doing pregame intros, so I'll try to fix the issue before first pitch. Missed Brett Lawrie on the first glance at the roster. I'm fairly sure he hasn't officially turned pro yet, actually, but he's another one to watch.

11:29, PREGAME WITH AUDIO: No announcers for this, just stadium audio, which is a good thing if you listened to the CBC crew doing the Athens games (names withheld to protect the guilty). Floor audio lets you hear the players more often, too. I've now heard Kobe Byrant curse at Chinese ballers much more than I thought I would.

Top of the first: Lefty Bu Tao gets the start for China. 5-11, 190, 25 years old. Adam Stern will lead off, followed by Stubby Clapp and others whose names I missed. First pitch is a fastball down the middle for a strike.

The bug box is even smaller than The Score's, if you can believe that. Stern pops out on the 0-2 to a shortstop with an unfortunate collection of facial hair.

Minus ten points to the director who put the camera at such an extreme position in left-centre field. With a lefty on the mound, you can't follow the pitches whatsoever. What's Bu throwing? Beats me!

Stubby Clapp flies out to the left fielder...uh...Wang Chao, who reaches up at the last second to make the catch and excite the crowd after taking a bizarre route to the ball. Then I want to say Michael Saunders made the third out on a loud fly. Yeah, we're going with Saunders.

First impressions of the crowd: very casual, oohing and aahing over routine plays. Same thing happened in this morning's Canada-Sweden soccer game.

Bottom of the first: Uh-oh, Chris Begg's starting. Begg had a rather poor outing in Athens, or maybe it was the World Baseball Classic. Wasn't good. He just got a huge boost from Sun Lingfeng, who struck out swinging at a pitch above his head. Possibly the worst swing I've seen in years.

Nickname the Canadian bench is using for Begg: "Begger." It was either that or "Beggs."

Hou Fenglian looks much better at the plate than his teammate, fouling off strikes and taking balls. He rips one back through the box and there goes the perfect game.

Feng Fei, number 88, is batting third and playing right field. Ground ball back to Begg, who goes to short for one, and then to first for the double play. Inning over, still scoreless.

Top of the second: It's amazing how fast baseball is when there are no commercials. Scott Thorman's already made the first out as Nick Weglarz steps in. Liner to left, single.

How come China gets full names on the backs of their jerseys and Canada has no names?

Jimmy Vanostrand, no relation to Dr. Martin Van Nostrand, hits into a 4-6-3 double play. He looked safe at first in real time but the replay shows he was out by a half-step. Good turn at second by whoever the Chinese shortstop is.

Bottom of the second: Begg has made just five starts in pro ball this year, totalling 26 innings, at levels far below where a 28-year-old should be playing. But he's retired the first two Chinese batters quickly here.

Or not. Two quick singles and Wang Chao's Orange Glasses are batting. He gets fooled on an offspeed pitch to make it 0-2 and then swings at a terrible pitch to end the inning. Team China could use some hand-eye skills: they look like John McDonald on a bad day.

Top of the third: We just passed midnight in the east, but 30 minutes for two innings isn't bad at all. And it will keep going this fast if Canada swings at the first pitch every time up. One out.

Other Chinese uniform oddities: the ostentatious flames down their right sleeves. Really? Flames?

Chris Robinson isn't happy with the called third strike, and it looked high, but all he can do is glare. Emmanuel Garcia works to 3-0, then flies out to Sun in CF. Another odd route to the ball...

Bottom of the third: Still scoreless. Sun Wei (there are two Suns, this one being the non-CF.) leads off for China. As much as the crowd wishes to gasp, it's still a routine fly ball for the first out.

Okay, who put Sun Lingfeng in the leadoff spot? Guy has no clue what he's doing up there. He and the following batter make two outs on two pitches and we're through three in 40 minutes.

Those frightening Olympic mascots are dancing on the warning track. The umpires might be smiling, but those are smiles of terror.

Top of the fourth: Back to the top of the order for Stern. Full count, pop fly, caught in short right by the second baseman Li Lei. Credit to Jim Lefevbre, China's manager, for throwing the lefty at Team Canada. Why there are so many left-handed hitters in this country, I'll never figure out.

Clapp, longtime international rep, jumps on a high mistake from Bu. First baserunner Canada's had since the first, I believe. Saunders then singles as Clapp gives a fist bump to our bearded friend out at second base. Zhang Yufeng is his name.

Speaking of Zhang, here he is with those flames visible. You be the judge:

Thorman hits one deep to right...and it's gone, about ten rows up off the side of the bleachers. A no-doubter and it's 3-0 for Canada!

Inning over with no further damage for Bu. And am I right or am I right about that bug box?

Bottom of the fourth: Missed the first batter - must have been a double, because there's a man on second. Wang Wei strikes out swinging and slams his helmet down. One out.

It's Feng Fei on second, the guy wearing 88. He slides into third awkwardly on a grounder to the pitcher (Begg went to Thorman at first for one out, then Thorman tried to pick off Feng on his way to third) but no injury to report as of yet.

Bearded Zhang is up with two outs, runner on third. Barely checks his swing on the 0-2, but Begg floats one in for called strike three.

A note: the sky is bright and cloudy, so the strange routes outfielders have been taking are quite understandable. White ball, white sky.

Top of the fifth: Well, this is the the fastest Chinese baseball game I've ever watched.

Couple of hits for Canada here, assuming catcher Chris Robinson in fact got a hit and didn't walk. See earlier comment about game speed.

Another lefty in the bullpen for China as they have a mound meeting. Pitching coach out, not Lefebvre. (I think I flipped the B and V earlier, Jim. Apologies.) Bu won't be pitching much longer.

Stern squares around to bunt twice, but Bu throws it up and in both times. On the 2-0, Stern swings and Zhang (the shortstop) makes an unassisted play at third on a grounder. That's where the wheel play comes in handy, rotating the middle infielders to cover first and third while the corners field the bunt. That's your 12:45 am baseball tip for the week.

Interestingly, Jim Lefebvre's last name is on his jersey, not his first. I guess only the nationals get full names. Pitching change! Say hello to Lui Kai (who has a very deliberate delivery).

Bizarre pickoff attempt results in both runners advancing. Liu a) wasn't fooling anyone and b) threw it into CF. One out, second and third, Clapp batting. And he walks to load 'em for Saunders.

Saunders strikes out. Couldn't catch up to Liu's fastball; possibly waiting on something slow on the 1-2 count. And a wild pitch behind Thorman's feet brings home the fourth run for Canada. Liu then hits Thorman to re-load the bases.

Liu's control is not with him today, but in fairness to him, he appears to be twelve years old. (Actually, not that far off. He's the youngest listed player, at 20.) Poor kid goes 3-0 on Generic Canadian Left-Handed Hitter #5...and walked him. 5-0. This may be turning into a laugher, folks.

Bottom of the fifth: Li Lei strikes out, poorly, as does Wang Chao, and then another strikeout ends the inning. I have to say that this is worse than I expected China to play. Aren't they an emerging baseball powerhouse? In any case, good on Begg for hitting his spots. He befuddles the hitters with strikes on the corners, then gets them to chase low and really outside. What idiot said "uh-oh, Begg is pitching"?

Top of the sixth: Liu is still pitching under the "screw it, we're down by 5, and we have six more games in the next seven days" rule. With two outs, he walks Garcia. No idea what the boxscore says, but that's three bases on balls at least, maybe four.

Now it's four, maybe five, as Stern walks in his fourth plate appearance of the day. This is really, really ugly. Thankfully for Liu, Clapp ends the inning with a popup. One wonders how much longer Liu can stay in this game without breaking into tears.

Bottom of the sixth: Two observations from a quick half-inning: 1) Thorman can move at first. Most immobile first basemen would let that one go by. 2) Begg almost resembles a younger Colby Cosh.

Top of the seventh: Chen Junyi, China's third pitcher of the day, all of whom have been lefthanded, finally relieves the young Mr. Liu. Mr. Chen is listed as 6-1, 165, but if he weighs more than 140, it's because he's holding a 20-pound weight.

Thorman's hit again. Clearly an act of aggression by the Chinese, and we can expect Canada to recall its High Commissioner any minute now. Manager Terry Puhl has also figured out that anyone can steal second against this Chinese catcher, even the lumbering Scott Thorman, who later comes around to score the sixth run.

Stretch time, if they have that, in Beijing. Just passed the two-hour mark of the game.

Bottom of the seventh: Puhl's doing the smart thing by riding Begg as far as he can here. The guy hasn't had to work from the stretch too much, and he's been able to work quickly and very effectively. Of course, once I type that, he allows a leadoff double to Wang Wei.

It has been nearly ten minutes since a bad Chinese strikeout, so Jia Yubing obliges for the first out. And then The Beard is brought to one knee by the force of his swing-and-a-miss-strike-three. Begg is dealing here, but an infield single ends his day. Now pitching, Tim Burton: sidearmer, flat-cap-bill-wearer, and director of Batman.

Two outs, first and third, and Burton comes in. Can you guess what happened? Yeah, another hilarious strikeout.

Top of the eighth: Just checked out the weather for the first time today, and it's apparently 41 with the humidex in Beijing. Maybe that explains Chen's first pitch of the inning, which was approximately seven feet above the umpire's head.

Robinson is hit by a pitch (Canada's totals at the 2008 Games: 0 gold, 0 silver, 0 bronze, 3 HBP) and goes to second on a wild pickoff throw. Another one of Chen's pitches is way high and I'm just going to stop mentioning those and the reader can insert a wild pitch once every paragraph or so.

Actually, let's call it a night. It's been a stinker of a game since the fifth and it's time for a good five hours of sleep. 6-0 Canada as I write this, just before 2:00 ET, with two on and one out in the top of the 8th. Good night and good news.

(I trust everyone will be awake at dawn on Thursday for Canada-Cuba?)

THE MORNING AFTER: Here's your poorly-designed boxscore (no mention of Thorman's homer or any extra-base hits, no stolen bases, two errors listed for China but none for any of the players). Canada added four in the 8th to win 10-0. Begg, Burton, and Rheal Cormier combined to throw 13 strikeouts.


Greg Layson said...

That shot by Thorman was ridiculous. The kid deserves another shot in the Majors. He needs out of the Atlanta organization. Like yesterday.

Lloyd the Barber said...

To classify that pick-off attempt as "bungled" would be doing all bunglers of the world a disservice.

Lloyd the Barber said...

The broken bat gets the loudest ovation of the night! I love Chinese baseball!

Rob Pettapiece said...

Yeah, I lost my audio three innings back, but the crowd wasn't helping anyway, mostly because of stuff like that. At least the soccer fans this morning would oooh and aaah on misses and goals appropriately.

Thorman, of course, is a proud Cambridge son. This marks the first time someone has gone from Canada's Technology Triangle to China.

Lloyd the Barber said...

I am surely laughing. From the 50 mph 0-2 gravity ball that hit Thorman to Jim Van Horne's unpracticed play-by-play, I am thoroughly enjoying myself.

Lloyd the Barber said...

Cheerleaders! Why don't they just throw apple pie at the crowd?

Lloyd the Barber said...

The only thing scarier than the catcher's footwork is his helmet. I think he borrowed if from a kayaker.

Lloyd the Barber said...

China may have 4 words for chicken but they surely don't have one for "successful pick-off attempt".

sager said...

Good stuff ... Scott Thorman might be an exemplar of the infielder who doesn't have the range for 2nd/short/3rd anymore, but he can still hit, so he moves to first ... guys like that are the bane of a lefty first baseman's existence (although we have no rejoinder -- we're supposed to be stuck in the outfield if we can't learn how to pitch).

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Great stuff, Rob. A nice opener for the Canadians, especially considering the U.S. loss to South Korea...