TURIN — The French national team’s chances of advancing in the 2021 European Baseball Championships officially came to an end on Tuesday, when they finished last in their pool despite a soul-saving victory over Russia.
But that doesn’t mean that Wednesday’s “consolation game” against Germany — the other team in their group that failed to qualify for the tournament’s quarter-finals — was meaningless. Au contraire, mon frère.
At stake, for one thing, was the looming threat of being relegated to the continent’s bottom tier and as a result, being denied direct qualification in the next European Championships. More about that later.
That aside, the game also mattered because at this level, with players representing their country, some for the first time, others perhaps for the last, every contest counts. It’s that simple. For international competitions of this kind the moment is always now, and in mounting a thrilling, late-innings rally against the Germans, Les Bleus most certainly proved it.
Trailing after the fifth inning, when Team Germany scored a pair of runs to break up what had been a scoreless game, the French refused to give up, even when their opponents, in the bottom of the sixth, had the bases loaded and threatened to blow the game wide open.
With a thrilling tag at the plate, and an inspired performance by 17-year-old relief pitcher Mathis Nayral, who showed poise beyond his years — cojones, as one teammate remarked — the French team denied Germany what looked like an almost certain opportunity to add to their lead.
Les Bleus did give up an additional run in the seventh inning, but continued to fight back, and in the top of the eighth, they finally got on the board when outfielder Léo Jiminian lasered a line-drive that scored second baseman Martin Vissac. Shortstop Felix Brown then hit a sacrifice fly that advanced the team’s leadoff hitter, Paolo Brossier, to third. And on a wild pitch, he too scored.
A strikeout by José Andrés Paula put an end to the rally, but momentum had clearly shifted in favor of the French, and in the bottom of the eighth, young Nayral returned to the mound and shut down the German batters to keep his team within one run.
In the top of the ninth, their last chance to at least tie the game, France again went on the attack. Third baseman Louis Brainville led off with a clutch single. Next up was his Rouen Huskies teammate Bastien Dagneau, who waited for a pitch he liked and unloaded on a ball that he — and just about everyone else at Turin’s Paschetto Baseball Stadium — felt certain would leave the yard.
Unfortunately for Les Bleus, it didn’t. Dagneau’s blast reached deep into the warning track, but was hauled in for an out. There was more drama yet to come. After pinch hitter Daniel Patrice struck out, bringing the French down to their last out, Vissac smashed a double that sent pinch-runner Jacques Boucheron to third.
That brought the speedy Brossier to the plate. The author of two home runs in the recent Challenge de France title game, the 21-year-old newcomer to France’s senior squad also came up big in the previous day’s win over Russia, when he smashed a game-changing, two-out, three-RBI double.
This time, though, luck wasn’t on Brossier’s side. He grounded out to end the inning. Game over! Final score: 3-2 in favor of Germany.
The loss moves Team France to 1-3 in the tournament, with one final game remaining: on Friday, against either Sweden or Greece. To avoid relegation, Les Bleus will have to win. They’ll need to lick their wounds, in other words, and lock in. French baseball’s immediate future depends on it.
To follow all the action live, visit the WBSC Europe page.