PANAMA CITY -- Colombia second baseman Dilson Herrera was hopping down the first-base line as he gazed high into the Panama City sky. The small, white dot of a baseball hung in stark contrast to the pitch-black atmosphere overhead as it soared down the third-base line. At last, a few
PANAMA CITY -- Colombia second baseman Dilson Herrera was hopping down the first-base line as he gazed high into the Panama City sky. The small, white dot of a baseball hung in stark contrast to the pitch-black atmosphere overhead as it soared down the third-base line. At last, a few seconds later, it landed on a dirt hill beyond the fence, just inside the foul pole.
Herrera's solo shot in the bottom of the eighth inning proved to be the deciding blow in a tightly contested battle at Rod Carew Stadium on Sunday, giving Colombia a 2-1 win over Panama and clinching his country's first bid to the World Baseball Classic in 2017.
The Mets second-base prospect entered the Panama City qualifier as one of the players to watch, and he saved his magic for when his team needed it most. Once the umpires circled their fingers above their heads to signify a home run, Herrera's entire cast of teammates poured out of the dugout to celebrate the momentous blast. Heck, even the whole bullpen ran down from the right-field line to get in on the high-five action.
"It was amazing. Amazing," a choked-up Herrera said while holding back tears. "First of all, I want to say thanks to God for everything. I was just trying to make good contact. I was thinking of my country, I was thinking about my team. I said, 'The game's not over until the last inning.' I was just trying to get on base for the third and fourth batters behind me. Just made good contact. When I saw my team and that situation, I have no word to describe [it]. I'm so happy and so excited for this opportunity."
Holding a one-run lead going into the top of the ninth, manager Luis Urueta went to Carlos Diaz to get the first out of the final frame, then Horacio Acosta came in to close out Colombia's historic victory.
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While almost all fans filed out of Rod Carew Stadium following a second consecutive Panama loss in a WBC qualifier championship, the yellow-clad supporters of Colombia went wild on the visitor's side of the stadium.
Guess who got the final putout? None other than the man of the hour, Herrera, who fired a strike to record the game-ending 4-3 fielder's choice. Before the ball even reached the glove of Reynaldo Rodriguez, Colombia ran out of the dugout to celebrate the victory. After mobbing together near the pitcher's mound, Colombia followed Herrera's lead in a victory lap around the bases, hoisting their yellow, blue and red flag proudly.
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At one point, Rodriguez emerged from the bouncing blue-jerseyed amoeba in the middle of the diamond and tossed the ball into the crowd of Colombian fans behind the dugout. He didn't stop there, though, as he brought a bottle of champagne into the postgame news conference, shook it up and showered reporters with some bubbly before taking the dais.
"The keys for the team was the talent, the camaraderie, the bonding and the chemistry as players," Rodrigeuz said through a translator. "And the patience. The patience that we had when we were hitting and fielding. When we made mistakes they hit it off and kept concentrating on the game. Especially in the moments when the game was the tightest. I want to thank my teammates for this big win."
Throughout the evening, pitchers from both sides controlled the tempo of the contest and didn't let many rallies develop. Back and forth they went, getting their respective teams back to the dugout in a timely fashion, before Herrera's game-winner.
Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, playing in perhaps his final WBC contest for Panama, scored the game's initial run in the bottom of the fourth. After hitting a one-out double to left field, Ruiz came around to score on a sharp ground ball by Carlos Quiroz to right field.
But Colombia was able to pull even in the sixth inning when Adrian Sanchez lined a single into the left-field gap to score Rodriguez. That all set the stage for Herrera's heroics in the late stages of the game.
"This is a big win for our country, a big win for Colombia," Urueta said through a translator. "We keep improving, we keep developing our players. We didn't have our full team. We had a lot of Major League players who weren't on our roster. We do have a bright future in the World Baseball Classic."
On the other side of the field, the Panama team had to watch again as another country celebrated on its home turf. In November 2012, Brazil knocked Panama off, 1-0, in the qualifier final to reach the Classic. Carlos Lee was a player on that squad, but he said being a manager this time around didn't ease the sting.
"It's tough," Lee said. "Every time you lose, it's tough. But I'm very proud of the guys that represented Panama in this tournament. They went out and they gave everything they got. We did our best. I'm sad, but at the same time, I'm very proud."
Alex Espinoza is a contributor to MLB.com.