PANAMA CITY, Panama -- France made history on Friday afternoon at Rod Carew Stadium. If you had any doubts, the roar from the third-base dugout after the 27th out might have given you a clue.After his team navigated its way through some late trouble, righty Pierrick Le Mestre recorded the
PANAMA CITY, Panama -- France made history on Friday afternoon at Rod Carew Stadium. If you had any doubts, the roar from the third-base dugout after the 27th out might have given you a clue.
After his team navigated its way through some late trouble, righty Pierrick Le Mestre recorded the final four outs of the game to secure France's first victory in World Baseball Classic competition, a 5-3 win over Spain to revive its hopes in the Panama City qualifier.
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With the loss, Spain was eliminated from its bid to reach a second consecutive Classic tournament. France will try to keep its tournament hopes going on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET, when it faces the loser of Friday night's Colombia-Panama matchup. The winner of that Saturday contest will face the Colombia-Panama winner on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET looking to win the pool and earn a trip to the Classic next March. Fans can watch all Classic qualifier action on MLB.com or worldbaseballclassic.com and follow along with Gameday.
Minutes after soaking in the scene in the clubhouse with his players, Gagne wasn't busy thinking about Saturday's starting pitcher. Instead, he was focused on the watershed moment that had just taken place for France.
"I think we're going to celebrate a little bit tonight, just enjoy that and think about it tomorrow morning when we wake up," Gagne said. "We're just going to enjoy every moment, every minute out there. We're not going to really look at the scouting report or stuff like that. We're just going to stay within ourselves and do what we know. Hopefully, we can go out there and compete, and we'll have a chance to win."
Friday's contest hit a fever pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning, with France clinging to a two-run lead. After Spain loaded the bases with back-to-back walks, Gagne called on Le Mestre to close out the frame. The closer delivered in a big way, freezing No. 3 Spain hitter Jesus Ustariz to end the threat.
"Bases loaded -- it was big for him, it was big for all of us," Gagne said. "You could see on the bench -- I had to tell them to calm down a little bit because there's another inning coming. But it's fun to watch that they care so much."
The ninth inning didn't offer as much drama, as Le Mestre recorded a 1-2-3 frame, sending his shouting teammates running toward the mound in celebration.
Following France's 9-2 loss to Panama on Thursday night, Gagne said his young, inexperienced players needed to collect themselves and diffuse the nerves that led to three costly errors. Team France answered the call in the first inning, using five singles to build an early three-run lead before even taking the field behind starter Leonel Cespedes.
Of the five singles, three came on consecutive pitches, and each of those three was responsible for driving in a run. First came a knock by Oakland A's prospect Andy Paz -- France's only affiliated player -- who lined one off the third-base bag and scored Felix Brown. On the next pitch, Ernesto Martinez singled to left to bring home Frederic Hanvi, and Douglas Rodriguez followed by scorching a sharp one to left to score Paz.
The 42-year-old Martinez -- whose 16-year-old son, pitcher Ernesto Martinez, is also on France's roster -- delivered a two-run single in the third as the designated hitter.
"This is a historical win today -- not just for France, but for Europe," Martinez said in Spanish.
Meanwhile, Cespedes tossed 80 pitches over 4 2/3 innings, allowing one unearned run on five hits while striking out two and walking none.
"The forkball was really working for me, and I was just trusting my catcher," the 22-year-old right-hander said via a translator. "I think my catcher called a good game."
Spain had its scoring opportunities throughout the afternoon, totaling nine hits and six walks. The Spanish squad scored on a pair of bases-loaded walks and a bases-loaded passed ball but went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base.
"I'm very proud of the guys and the job they did in such a short time," Spain manager Manny Crespo said. "We had opportunities to get some more runs. A couple of times, we hit the ball real hard at people, but that's the game of baseball."
So, is France the new Cinderella of the Classic tournament? After all, Brazil emerged out of nowhere to claim the Panama City qualifier berth in 2012 at Rod Carew Stadium.
"Nobody counted on us to win the game, and we know that," Gagne said. "That's what makes it fun out there. It makes us the underdog. It's just a fun thing to see the guys work so hard and get the rewards for it."
Alex Espinoza is a contributor to MLB.com.