The WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier opened Monday in Florida, where the eight best national teams from the Americas gathered to pursue one of two open slots in the six-team Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games field. The COVID-19 pandemic postponed the Olympics last year, and they will take place from July 21-Aug. 8. The four teams that have already qualified for the first Olympic baseball action in 13 years are Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea.
The winner of the Americas Qualifier will secure a spot in the Olympic field, while the runner-up and third-place team will advance to the WBSC Final Qualifier in June. That five-team tournament will take place in Mexico and the winner will claim the sixth and final Olympic spot.
The Americas Qualifier will run through June 5, and the teams are split into two groups. Group A consists of the world’s second-ranked team, the United States, as well as No. 10 Dominican Republic, No. 11 Puerto Rico and No. 15 Nicaragua. The teams in Group B are No. 7 Cuba, No. 8 Venezuela, No. 13 Canada and No. 14 Colombia.
Here are the results from Day 1 of the tournament:
Canada 7, Colombia 0
Canada opened the Olympic qualifiers with a bang, tossing a combined no-hitter of Colombia at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Left-hander Andrew Albers, who pitched for the Twins, Blue Jays and Mariners from 2013-17, tossed seven innings and struck out seven while walking none on 90 pitches. Relievers Brendan McGuigan (one inning) and Ben Onyshko (one inning) silenced Colombia’s bats the rest of the way.
Canada scored six times over the first two innings to jump out to a big lead, adding a run in the seventh for good measure. The stars at the plate were Eric Wood and Tigers outfield prospect Jacob Robson. Wood homered and drove in two, while Robson singled twice, tripled and drove in three.
United States 7, Nicaragua 1
Left-hander Matthew Liberatore, the Cardinals’ No. 1 prospect and No. 30 prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, tossed five solid innings while giving up one run on five hits, walking one and striking out four on 86 pitches.
Liberatore got plenty of run support at Clover Park, primarily from Red Sox No. 3 prospect (No. 92 overall) Jarren Duran and Mariners prospect Eric Filia. Duran singled three times in six at-bats, driving in two. Filia also drove in two while going 2-for-5 with a pair of singles. Reds catching prospect Mark Kolozsvary went 2-for-5 with a solo homer, the only extra-base hit among the 14 hits the U.S. had in the game.
Benjamin Alegria doubled off the wall in the fifth inning and drove in Nicaragua’s only run.
Dominican Republic 5, Puerto Rico 2
Luís Liberato launched a tiebreaking solo home run in the sixth inning, a two-run frame in which Gustavo Nuñez also tripled and scored on 12-year MLB utilityman Emilio Bonifacio’s double, helping lift the D.R. to a 5-2 victory.
The D.R. opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning at Clovis Park in Port St. Lucie, Fla., thanks to three consecutive singles by Julio Rodríguez -- a Mariners prospect ranked No. 5 in baseball by MLB Pipeline -- six-time MLB All-Star José Bautista and former MLB infielder Juan Francisco.
Puerto Rico took a 2-1 lead on a second-inning homer by Rey Navarro. But Rodríguez helped pull the D.R. even, singling to open the third before scoring on a Diego Goris double. The D.R.’s final run of the game came courtesy of a Nuñez RBI single in the eighth.
Venezuela 6, Cuba 5
Carlos Pèrez, a catcher who played for the Angels, Braves and Rangers from 2015-18, was the hero at the plate for Venezuela. He belted a three-run homer in the first inning and added an RBI single in the third to give his club a 4-0 lead at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla. Venezuela scored two more on solo homers by veteran MLB utilityman Hernán Pérez in the sixth and nine-year MLB catcher Robinson Chirinos in the eighth.
Cuba got a two-run homer from Erisbel Arruebarruena in the fourth, and added another run with an RBI single from Yadil Mujica in the fifth. That chased Venezuela starter Aníbal Sánchez, who helped the Nationals win the 2019 World Series as part of a 15-year MLB career. Cuba rallied for two runs in the ninth on a two-run homer by pinch-hitter Lisbán Correa, but Moisés Gómez nailed down the save in a 6-5 victory.