Mexico had a tough task on Tuesday night at Chase Field in the World Baseball Classic.
The team was the perceived favorite to defeat upstart Great Britain, the team with nothing to lose as the biggest underdog in Group C that had already bagged an upset over Colombia on Monday. But Mexico needed a win to strengthen its chances of advancing to the knockout stage in Miami, and improved to 2-1 in the WBC with a 2-1 win.
It wasn’t easy as Great Britain made it difficult on a more talented and experienced opponent for the third game in four, but a former Diamondback helped deliver a victory for Mexico in front of 17,705 fans.
Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, who played three seasons with Arizona from 2017 to 2019 and is now with the Philadelphia Phillies, threw four scoreless innings to set the tone for Mexico.
Here are five takeaways from a tight game Tuesday night.
Walker, in his very first WBC appearance, struck out eight with a walk and allowed just one hit. His night ended at 63 pitches due to WBC rules that limit pitch counts.
Mexico’s starting pitching has fared well in Phoenix, with Julio Urias going five innings and allowing three runs on three hits with six strikeouts on Saturday in a 5-4, 10-inning loss to Colombia. Then Patrick Sandoval quieted the U.S. bats for three innings, allowing a run on two hits in three innings.
Jose Urquidy, a World Series champion with the Houston Astros last season, is scheduled to start against Canada on Wednesday afternoon in both teams’ group stage finale.
Wilson starts, stars
Alexis Wilson got the start at catcher for Mexico in place of Austin Barnes, who played the first two Mexico games and was being saved for a day game on Wednesday. Wilson drove in Mexico’s first two runs with an infield hit to shortstop with two outs in the second inning, then gave his team the lead in the seventh with a one-out single to left field that allowed Alan Trejo to score from second base.
Wilson is a former St. Louis Cardinals prospect who has been playing professionally in Mexico for the past few years.
“We have trust in, I know Alexis very well. And I know he’s a good catcher with a lot of capability,” Mexico manager Benji Gil said before the game. “And he’ll be in charge and he’ll bring us a victory.”
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Great Britain bowed out of the WBC with a win and three defeats, but its play was better than the record indicates.
Just ask Colombia, the losing team in Great Britain’s historic 7-5 WBC win on Monday. Great Britain lost 18-8 to Canada and 6-2 to the U.S., but clearly improved after those games.
Gil said his team wasn’t overlooking Great Britain, and that was likely true. But Great Britain’s bullpen was solid Tuesday, and the pitching staff held one of Mexico’s hottest hitters, Randy Arozarena, without a hit in five plate appearances.
“This is the beginning of Chapter Two for Great Britain baseball and British baseball in general. And I think there will be people who can use this moment as inspiration to come out and play the game and to believe that someone with this name on the front of their chest can be successful, not only in competitions like this, but they can achieve all their aspirations,” Great Britain manager Drew Spencer said Monday. “It’s possible to go and play college baseball. It’s possible to go play in international leagues, to play in the best professional leagues around the country. And soon we’ll see somebody in the Major Leagues because of this moment, in my opinion.”
Great Britain stayed close with some solid defense. In the first inning, it turned a double play off a hard-hit ball up the middle from Alex Verdugo, and in the fourth, right fielder Chavez Young, a Triple-A outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates, threw out Mexico’s Jonathan Aranda trying to stretch a base hit into a double.
In the fifth, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson used long strides to catch a sinking line drive to right-center field from Verdugo.
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Manny Barreda, an Arizona native from Sahuarita just south of Tucson, has pitched professionally for 16 years. He’s represented Mexico in the Olympics and in 2021 appeared in three games for the Baltimore Orioles.
On Tuesday, Barreda made his World Baseball Classic debut, pitching one inning out of the bullpen. Barreda was charged with the tying run after being relieved following a one-strikeout, one-walk performance.