09/22/12 5:08 PM ET
Worth the wait: South Africans eliminate French
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
South Africa waited out two rain delays and a suspension Friday night followed by a three-hour delay Saturday afternoon, went without a hit until there were two out in the eighth inning but finally put together a three-run 11th inning, knocking out France with a 4-2 victory at Roger Dean Stadium.
"We found a way at the end to get it done, and this is a very large win for South Africa," manager Rick Magnante said. "It's our first in the World Baseball Classic, so it'll be memorable. Like I tell the players, you never forget your first."
South Africa will move on to face Spain on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, with a spot in Sunday's qualifier final on the line. France, meanwhile, will head home after falling to Spain on Thursday and South Africa on Saturday.
Paul Bell had the biggest hit for South Africa, driving in the tie-breaking runs with a double to left field in the bottom of the 11th inning. Bell scampered home on Jonathan Phillips' single to right field, putting South Africa ahead by three and capping off a long, emotional victory.
Asked about that moment, Bell lamented two wasted opportunities Friday night. He recorded a game-tying RBI ground out with the bases loaded in the fifth inning when he could have blown the game open, and he struck out with a runner on second base in the ninth inning Friday night as the South Florida rain poured down and threatened another delay.
If Bell had put a better swing on the ball in either situation, maybe they would have beaten the rain and France and South Africa wouldn't have had pick it up Saturday with the score tied, 2-2. Maybe South Africa could have celebrated its first Classic win a night earlier instead of doing so on five hours of sleep.
But how boring would that story seem compared to the way it actually unfolded?
"I think having to get through that was something as a team we accomplished, and I'm actually glad it happened to us," Bell said. "If something goes wrong the day before, shake it off and the next day presents itself. I think that's the beautiful thing about baseball."
Before the Classic's qualifying round began, French manager Jim Stoeckel was brutally honest about his team's outlook. He said his club looked like the least-talented club in the four-team pool, and this competition would be at a level France has ever seen.
He could have been bitter, as he carried far less professional talent on his roster than the other teams. But while his early prediction turned out to be true, Stoeckel left Roger Dean Stadium with nothing but optimism and pride.
"We wish we'd won, obviously, but that's baseball. We didn't give it away. South Africa took it. They won it," Stoeckel said. "Honestly, I think we did [play better than expected]. We had two days of work before we started. We had two days together. It would be great to have these guys for two weeks."
The French pitching staff issued 14 walks and gave up one run on a balk. There were gaffes in the field and mistakes on the basepaths by both teams. There were plenty of low moments on a long, long night of baseball, and Saturday's continuance wasn't always pretty, either.
France loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the 10th, putting the winning run within 90 feet of home plate with two chances to walk off. But South African right-hander Dylan De Meyer struck out Frederic Hanvi and Marc Ramirez to end the inning.
That gave South Africa another chance, and the team that went winless in its first six games at the Classic knew how to take advantage. After Bell and Phillips gave South Africa the lead, De Meyer recorded the final three outs to finish off France.
"If there's any one significant aspect of our game as a nation that has improved and has resonated here in this tournament so far, it's been the pitching," Magnante said. "When you bring in a kid like De Meyer in an extra-inning ballgame, tied, and ask him to try to go out and garner South Africa's first World Baseball Classic win and he steps up, you've got to be pretty pleased."
Indeed, nearly 21 hours after the first pitch was supposed to be thrown, despite delays and distractions and everything in between, South Africa had something to celebrate.