GERMANY – Redemption.
Italy arrived at the 2010 European Baseball Championship intent on burying the ghosts of 2007, when the Azzurri failed to win a medal for the second time in four years. Mission accomplished.
Giuseppe Mazzanti and Jairo Ramos both homered, and Tiago Da Silva survived a major jam in the opening frame as Italy dethroned the Netherlands, 8-4, Sunday to claim their first European title since 1997.
MISSED DUTCH OPPORTUNITY
The Dutch threatened to put the Italians into an early deep hole. Eugene Kingsale slugged a full count fastball over the center field fence for a leadoff home run, and two singles and a walk later the five-time reigning European champion had the sacks full with no outs. But, Da Silva got an over-anxious Bryan Engelhardt to foul out to the catcher on the first pitch, and then sent Bas de Jong back to the dugout with just three pitches. Dirk van’t Klooster grounded into an inning-ending fielder’s choice to complete the David Blaine-like escape.
Mazzanti, who captured the 2008 Italian Baseball League batting title, continued swinging a red-hot stick as Italy answered back with three scores in the bottom of the first. Tony Granato reached on a one-out walk and stole second before Mario Chiarini legged out an infield hit. Mazzanti delivered a two-run double, and later crossed the plate on Juan Angrisano’s sacrifice fly.
Former minor leaguer Danny Rombley collected his second hit in as many innings one frame later to put Kingsale in scoring position with two down. However, Da Silva induced a rally-killing flyout off the bat of Raily Legito to foil the Dutch again.
ITALY FLEXES MUSCLES
Neither squad could get its offense untracked until the sixth when Italy teed off against one of Europe’s top hurlers. Mazzanti greeted DOOR Neptunus right-hander Leon Boyd with a solo blast to start the inning, and Ramos followed with another bases-empty long ball to stretch the lead to 5-1.
The Dutch came charging back in the eighth to make things interesting. Legito and Sidney de Jong opened the frame with back-to-back singles to chase reliever Justin Cicatello, who limited the defending title-holder to a pair of scores and a trio hits in five stellar relief innings.
THE COMEBACK TRAIL
Engelhardt made it three hits in a row with a run-scoring single off Carlos Pezzullo to close the gap to 5-2, and de Jong sprinted home on a passed ball thrown by Cariparma Parma right-hander Marco Grifantini. Former Chicago Cubs prospect Dwayne Kemp drove in the final run of the inning with a two-base hit to make it a one-run affair.
The relief pitching woes of the usually reliable Dutch bullpen continued in the bottom of the eighth as Italy tacked on three key insurance runs. Arschwin Asjes issued a bases-loaded walk before getting replaced by Michiel van Kampen, who hit pinch-hitter Lorenzo Avagnina with an inside pitch to force in another score. The Italians sealed the title-clinching win in earnest when Angrisano motored home on a wild pitch.
Grifantini tossed a perfect ninth to notch the save for the newly-crowned European champion. Cicatello (1-0) turned in a big-time long relief outing to earn the win for skipper Marco Mazzieri’s squad.
2010 EBC FINAL STANDINGS
1 – Italy
2 – Netherlands
3 – Germany
4 – Greece
5 – Sweden
6 – France
7 – Czech Republic
8 – Great Britain
9 – Belgium
9 – Spain
11 – Croatia
11 – Ukraine
Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti/FIBS