It was a back-and-forth affair until the 8th inning, but host Australia beat South Africa, 12-5 to advance to the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
The two teams traded single runs in the first, with South Africa getting to former big leaguer and Australian starter Travis Blackley via a leadoff home run from Pittsburgh minor leaguer Gift Ngoepe. With two outs in the bottom of the first, veteran Trent Oeltjen (who came out of retirement to play) tied the game with a double (a runner was thrown out at the plate to end the inning).
With the scored tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Australia took the 3-1 lead on back-to-back home runs from former Philadelphia Phillie Brad Harman and recently signed KC Royal Allan de San Miguel (de San Miguel signed a minor league deal with the Royals while playing in the WBC qualifier).
Blackey was cruising after the second inning, but then things quickly unraveled for the Aussie in the sixth. An infield single, followed by a double, put the tying runs in scoring position and brought up South African catcher Kyle Botha (who had driven in four runs the previous night). Botha hit the first pitch out of the ballpark for the 4-3 lead.
The lead was short-lived, as a Trent D’Antonio double scored Oeltjen in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 4-4.
Newly signed Royal Peter Moylan entered in relief with two outs and a runner on third base in the sixth. He recorded a strikeout on four pitches.
Moylan went back out for the seventh, getting a ground out to start the inning. After a walk, Moylan induced an inning ending double play from Ngoepe. Moylan would be credited with the victory, as Australia took the lead for good in the bottom of the inning.
The bottom of the seventh started with a single and a sac bunt. Outfielder Mitch Dening followed with an RBI single to give the Aussies the 5-4 lead. Dening then stole second base and went to third base on a Stefan Welch single. Once again, Oeltjen came through, driving in a run with a single.
Things got interesting in the eighth, with Aussie closer Ryan Searle on the mound. A single and a walk started the inning and a ground out back to Searle put both runners in scoring position. The next batter, Brett Willemburg, hit a ground ball back to Searle that went right through his legs. However, shortstop James Beresford (Minnesota) bare-handed it and threw to first. It was a bang-bang play and the ump ruled Willemburg out. However, a run scored on the play and South Africa cut the deficit to 6-5. Searle then got a strikeout to escape.
In the bottom of the eighth, South Africa just ran out of good pitching and Australia blew the game open. A walk and a single (in which the reliever didn’t cover first base) started the inning and then de San Miguel laid down a perfect bunt. The third baseman threw it away and a run scored.
Four South African relievers were needed to record three outs in the eighth. They walked four and allowed six runs.
Searle went back out for the ninth, despite the long delay, and threw just eight pitches in securing the victory.
Oeltjen had three hits in the Aussie win, while Logan Wade, Dening, Welch, Luke Hughes, D’Antonio, and Harman each had two hits.
Australia becomes the first team to advance to the 2017 WBC via the qualifiers, with two more coming in March and one more in September.