Great Britain makes stunning comeback to qualify for 1st World Baseball Classic

September 21st, 2022

For nine innings, Spain held the lead. For nine innings, Spain and its team of former Major Leaguers and affiliated veterans looked certain to advance to its first World Baseball Classic since 2013. They jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, before eventually seeing it grow to 8-3 on No. 18 prospect Noelvi Marte's three-run home run in the top of the fourth inning.

But Great Britain, the surprise powerhouse of the Regensburg Qualifiers, never gave up. They kept scratching out runs and pushing for extra bases. Finally, in the bottom of the ninth, Blue Jays prospect Jaden Rudd -- who had committed a run-scoring error in the first inning -- came up clutch with a game-tying home run off former MLB reliever Rhiner Cruz. It was the first time since the two teams were tied at zero that Team GB had evened up the game.

"I took a pretty good pitch that I probably should have put in play. After that I was done thinking. Just bat to baseball. I got a good pitch, got out front and it landed way over the fence," Rudd said. "I couldn't believe what happened. [My teammates] were all just excited for me, excited for the team. It was like a new energy in the dugout. We felt like we were gonna win that baseball game. And we did. That was one of the best moments in my baseball career right there."

After Pirates No. 29 prospect Tahnaj Thomas shut out Spain in the top half of the 10th inning, things continued to go Great Britain's way in the bottom half. After Cruz made a great barehanded stab on Justin Wylie's ground ball, he tried to catch GB's Matt Koperniak off second base. His throw went into center field and, after hesitating momentarily, Koperniak took off for third base. After initially being called out on a close play, replay review overturned the call. That put runners on the corners with one out for Alex Crosby.

Crosby, who has played his entire career in the independent leagues, then lofted Cruz's offering deep to left field to drive in the winning run on a sacrifice fly. It was the first time that Great Britain had a lead the entire night and it sealed their first ever World Baseball Classic tournament berth next spring. 

"We thought that these guys would be relentless, fierce competitors," manager Drew Spencer said. "That's the team that we wanted to put together. And that's exactly who they were."

"I definitely didn't expect any of this. I mean, when I first thought of Great Britain, I definitely didn't think of baseball. And when I got here and saw the solid group of guys we had I was like, 'Oh, shoot, we can kind of hit,'" Mariners top prospect and Team GB breakout star Harry Ford said after homering and driving in three in the victory.

After a week of mourning in the country following Queen Elizabeth's death, with the funeral taking place on the club's off day Monday, it was an emotional moment for the Great Britain team. Center fielder Anfernee Seymour, who collected two hits and stole two bases in the victory, raced around the field with the Union Jack flag before planting it in the dirt around home plate.

The team then joined together to sing "God Save the King."

"We knew that the whole nation would be paying attention. Certainly, all the baseball fans would be watching and it's a time where people needed to come through and give people some good news," Spencer said. "To deliver at that moment, at a time where we had just come out of the national mourning period -- today was the first day where we could sing the anthem loud and proud."

"I take great pride and always have -- my mom was born and raised in England," Crosby said, the Union Jack flag draped around his shoulders and dripping with celebratory suds from the on-field celebration. "I just think it was an amazing experience for myself, these guys, everyone in the building and people watching. I wouldn't switch anything for the world, I would do this all over again."

"Baseball is just a game of passion and heart. No matter where you're from, no matter how far away you are," Ford said. "It's like you saw today. When you have a team like this, and we love each other and care about each other and care about this game, you can go anywhere with it." 

Spain will now have to play the Czech Republic on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET with the winner getting the final World Baseball Classic tournament place from the Regensburg Qualifier. Spain beat the Czechs, 21-7, earlier in the tournament.