Germany underdogs against classy Canadians

German pitcher Enorbel Marquez-Ramirez delivers a pitch late in the game against Great Britain which Germany won, 16-1, on Sunday. Photo Walter KellerCanada's national baseball team and Germany face off against each other Monday night in the final of the World Baseball Classic Qualifier to decide who gets to participate in the 2013 World Baseball Classic in the US next March, capping a tournament which has given fans a glimpse of some top-class players and action.

The Canadians put on a display of both strong pitching and powerful hitting in rolling over Great Britain 11-1 and then Germany, 16-7, to reach the final game in the double-elimination tournament. Germany first trounced the Czech Republic 16-1 before then being humbled a bit by the Canadians.

But on Sunday, Germany bounced back with an exclamation mark performance, thrashing Britain 16-1, with the German offence backing a masterful pitching performance by Enorbel Marquez-Ramirez, a naturalised German originally from Cuba, who narrowly missed pitching a no-hitter on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The game was typical of much that had been seen in the tournament so-far - high-scoring and at times lopsided results. The closest game of the tournament had been Britain's 12-5 defeat of the Czechs to set up the showdown for which European country would challenge the Canadians in the final. Germany answered that question.

Of the many schools of thought among fans about how they like their baseball, the two foremost are those who like low-scoring affairs, and those who like to see a lot of offensive action.

Typically, the former group like tense, nail-biting games where strong pitching and fielding defence hold the score down to something like 4-3 or 3-1, a game where each individual play - maybe a single fielding error - can be the make-or-break factor in the final outcome going down to the last out.

In Regensburg, however, it's the fans of big-scoring games who have gotten more than their money's worth. The Canadians, with a roster loaded with Triple-A and Double-A minor league players in the US, scored 28 runs in their two victories leading them to the final game. Germany scored 39 runs in their three games.

"The Canadians certainly showed what a strong team they have," Britain's American manager, Sam Dempster said. "Their pitching, hitting and defence were too much for us."

With Canada living up to its role as favourites, the tournament was being watched by fans as to how European baseball measures up internationally. But here, too, the Regensburg event had its own special conditions which don't allow for an easy answer.

Under more liberal WBC nationality rules, about three-quarters of the British team were nationals from outside England, players who grew up, say, playing baseball in the US, Australia, South Africa or elsewhere. Only one player, pitcher Michael Trask, was listed on the roster as being from an English club, the Bracknell Blazers.

Germany's Max Kepler-Rozycki connects on a ball against the Czech Republic, while in the background Donald Lutz awaits his turn at bat. Both players are now playing professionally in the US minor league system. Photo Walter KellerTeam Germany, likewise, made use of "German roots" players from the US minor league system to beef up its roster for the Regensburg tournament, altogether adding 13 baseballers from across the Atlantic to their roster. But the German team also has genuine born-and-bred local players on the roster, including four who are playing professionally in the US minor league system.

Foremost of these are Donald Lutz, who has risen to Double-A level in the Cincinnati Redlegs organisation, and Max Kepler-Rozycki, playing at the Rookie League level in the Minnesota Twins system. Kepler-Rozycki, 19, was the sensation of European baseball when he got an $800,000 bonus just for signing with the Twins.

Britain's manager Dempster tipped his cap to the Germans after Sunday's game and commented how he hopes baseball in Britain will move in the direction that Germany has already done by developing a strong league system, "so that home-grown players can come up and play for the national team."

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