New Zealand's pioneering Diamondblacks secured a historic victory to stay alive in the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in Chinese-Taipei today, eliminating a Thailand side reinforced by two-time World Series winner Johnny Damon with a convincing 12-2 triumph.
Needing to beat the lowly-ranked Thais to avoid an early exit, New Zealand were in control throughout to justify their inclusion in the Classic's qualifying phase for the first time and boost morale after the 28-man squad endured a difficult build-up in Australia, and then a 10-0 defeat to Chinese Taipei on opening night.
The Diamondblacks WBC debut ended on the mercy rule against the world's No.8-ranked nation but they bounced back at Xinzhuang Stadium to make tomorrow's grand final qualifier against either Chinese-Taipei or the Philippines.
This time they benefited from the mercy rule in the eighth after Boss Moanaroa's automatic homer to right field restored a 10-run buffer before the final three Thai batters were returned to the dugout.
New Zealand were competitive against the tournament hosts until the bottom of the fifth, by the corresponding stage of yesterday's encounter the Diamondblacks were in complete control despite conceding their first run, an ultimately consolation score by Adichat Wongvichit.
The Diamondblacks continued their trend of the lead-off man getting on base but in a dramatic improvement from game one they were able to capitalise on potential scoring opportunities against an error-prone opponent that was eventually out muscled 14 hits to four.
Alan Schoenberger got the ball rolling during the Kiwis first at bat when he followed up his single by stealing second, advancing to third when Max Brown ground out and then making it home - for the first of four occasions-- on the back of a Boss Moanaroa single to centre field.
The Diamondblacks then took advantage of a Thai outfit demoralised by an 8-2 thumping by the Philippines as they piled on four runs at the top of the second, ample compensation after Scott Campbell and Moanaroa were hit by pitches.
A Schoenberger double scored Moko Moanaroa and Max Brown, he followed them home after a Daniel Lamb-Hunt single and then a bruised Campbell, who was close to becoming New Zealand's first Major League baseballer while at the Toronto Blue Jays, reached home plate courtesy of a line drive to centre field by Daniel Devonshire.
The Diamondblacks pitching rotation were routinely preyed upon in Sydney, Canberra and then by the tournament favourites, but Auckland 17-year-old Macauley Fox warranted his start on the mound by striking out five batters and giving up just two hits and a run during his five inning stretch.
The left hander was finally relieved by Christian Wise who had the daunting task of facing Damon - a World Series winner with the Boston Red Sox (2004) and New York Yankees (2009).
The 39-year-old free agent, whose mother is Thai, singled to right field, advanced to second after a wild pitch and made it home after Joseph Daru slammed a fastball past Wise.
Damon narrowed the margin to eight but his unheralded teammates were unable to erode the deficit further before runs to Regan Hoet and Boss Moanaroa guaranteed an early end to proceedings.
The winner of Sunday's final progresses to the next phase of qualifying where the successful nations join the 16 teams contesting the WBC in San Francisco in March.
- © Fairfax NZ News