S. Africa unravels late, exits Classic
Bullpen allows 11 runs to Mexico over final three innings
By Christopher Ramirez / Special to MLB.com
South Africa stayed close with Mexico, pushing the host for almost the entire game until its miscues began to mount.
"We had a formidable opponent out there today," South Africa manager Rick Magnante said, "and I think the scoreboard basically told the story. Through six innings, a 3-2 ballgame and we're in it. ... We just didn't get the chance to play a full nine, and it got away from us there at the end."
Mexico was able to take an easy 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning thanks in large part to a South Africa mistake.
Pitcher Justin Erasmus walked leadoff batter Jerry Hairston Jr. and later, on a pickoff attempt with Hairston on second, threw wide to allow Hairston to advance to third. Mexico's Adrian Gonzalez doubled to left-center field to bring Hairston home.
But South Africa was quick to make up for Erasmus' error.
Second baseman Gift Ngoepe tripled to center field over the head of Hairston in the bottom of the first and scored on a fielder's choice by Jonathan Phillips.
"I just came out with a plan today in my at-bats, and it kind of worked." Ngoepe said. "I got my foot down early and made sure everything worked and kept my hands back and made sure I hit the ball."
Ngoepe hit another triple in the third inning, this time for an RBI. But that left South Africa still trailing, 3-2, as it was unable to keep up with the offensive output from Gonzalez, who had a pair of home runs and six RBIs.
South Africa also allowed Mexico to stretch its lead when pitcher Alessio Angelucci walked Jorge Cantu with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh and first baseman Brett Willemburg made an errant throw home that allowed an additional two runs to score.
Defense overall, however, continued to be a strength for South Africa.
Shortstop Anthony Phillips made a diving catch in the top of the eighth to steal a hit from Freddy Sandoval, and earlier, outfielder Paul Rutgers made a jumping catch at the wall against Gonzalez in the top of the fifth. Both plays received cheers from the heavily pro-Mexico crowd.
Rutgers also did a little dancing in the outfield during breaks in the top of the eighth and ninth innings, much to delight of the fans sitting in the left-field stands, ensuring South Africa went out in style.
Christopher Ramirez is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.