The Top ten games in Baseball Ireland History (number 2)
- Game: Ireland v Austria
- Tournament: European Pool B Championships
- Game type: Group game
- Venue: Regensberg, Germany
This excerpt from my book on Irish Baseball breaks the game down for you like a fraction. From 'Pitching in - ten years on the Irish baseball team'
''The next day we had a tough encounter ahead of us. A night game under the lights at the Armin-Wolf-Arena against Austria, who we had faced twice before and never beaten. They had killed us in 1998 and beaten us 8-4 in Sweden behind their ace. Austria were experienced, well coached, had a big pitching staff and several big bats. They had been surprisingly beaten 10-5 on day one by Serbia-Montenegro and knew they had to beat us to stay competitive in the tournament. We knew we faced a talented and also hungry opponent.
We had a good workout on the adjacent field, everyone was focussed and seemed ready to play. My parents arrived about an hour before game time. Seeing them there made me feel very proud, having anyone travel so far to support you is very flattering and makes you feel very humble. We have always had good support abroad, and Germany was no exception. Rory Murphy’s whole family was there, his little brother became the team’s batboy, and did a fine job at it too. Joe Kealty’s mother and David Callaghan’s parents made it all the way from the States, quite a journey to see their sons play baseball for Ireland.
Chris Gannon got the ball for Ireland. His much anticipated start began horribly. Chris hit three batters in a row in the first, but pitched well enough to work around one hit and give up just the two runs. Austria would rue that missed chance later as Chris knuckled down and shut the Austrians out the rest of the way.
Werner Harraser pitched for Austria and pitched magnificently, keeping us off the scoreboard until the fifth inning when Joe Kealty doubled, drove in a run and then scored the tying run. Then both teams shut up shop, trading great pitching and super defensive plays. It was turning into a nail biter that neither team wanted to or indeed could afford to lose. Chris really turned it around after that first inning, and threw everything he had into one of the best pitching performances by an Irish pitcher. In eight solid innings he struck out eight while only giving up two runs, keeping Ireland in the game. In the middle of the seventh Sean sent me down to the bullpen in right field to warm up. I watched from there as Chris continued to dominate. The Austrians kept us off the board though, and rather than wear his ace out Sean decided to ask me to keep us in the game
I went to the mound under the lights to start the ninth inning, in a tied European Championships game, with my parents watching in the centre field stands. No pressure at all.
As I threw my warm up pitches I felt my stomach twist around a few times but that was it. I actually was able to keep the ball down and throw relatively hard. Nervousness is a very odd feeling. The worst part was wondering how those first few pitches were going to look. After having watched Chris pitch so masterfully I didn’t want to let the guys down. Didn’t want to let Sean down, did not want to let my Father down. I knew we needed this game too, we had worked very hard to get to 2-2 so to blow it would be a real moral sapper.
I have been doing this a long time now though and have such confidence in wonderful defensive players like John Dillon and Darran O’Connor that you know if you throw strikes you have a chance. The first pitch felt like I moved my arm but nothing happened. Thankfully the second felt more normal, and I stuck to throwing a low sinker, hoping it would confuse the bat speed of the Austrians who had been trying to catch up to Gannon’s 90mph fireballs the previous innings.
The first batter reached on a soft single, but I managed to field a bunt cleanly and make the out on the next play. One out. I hit the next batter, but then got a guy to ground a low sinker to second. To end the inning I managed to get a guy to lift a soft fly out to John Dillon in centre field. As I saw the ball flying out towards John I walked off the mound, that’s the kind of confidence I have in his defensive ability.
We managed nothing in the tenth so back out I went. Through singles and walks the Austrians loaded the bases with one out. All they needed was a little bloop hit and the game was over. The crowd was really buzzing, the adrenaline was flowing. The batter, Rauch Lutz, already had a couple of hits that day so probably felt pretty good about himself coming up knowing all he needed was to lift the ball into the outfield to win the game. The trick, for me, to a good sinker, is to get your controlling finger in a good position and drive the ball down, and when I threw the first pitch to Lutz I knew it was a good one. As it came out of my hand his eyes lit up. I assume he saw a medium speed fastball floating towards the plate, started drooling and began his swing. I saw his face turn into a Homeresque expression of ‘Doh!’ as he drove his bat topside of the ball and mashed it into the ground as the sinker did it’s thing and dove down just enough to make him ground it weakly to Pat Nolan at third. Pat threw home for the out and we had two outs with runners at first and second.
I felt the pressure lift off my shoulders. All we needed was one more out. The next batter lifted a soft fly to left field, made tricky by the bright lights, it disappeared into the total pitch black night above the light towers. Tom Kelley called Kevin Corrigan off the ball, and ended up having to go into a dive to catch it as he almost misjudged it. He grabbed it and clutched it to him as K-Co shouted relieved profanities at him. A narrow, narrow escape. We literally bounded off the field and the Irish fans in the big crowd went wild.
The momentum was ours and we went out and absolutely blew the game open in the eleventh inning. John Dillon led us off with a triple and suddenly we felt the game was ours for the taking. The atmosphere on the bench was electric. Joe Kealty was up next and lined a vicious triple into the outfield. Back to back triples. Sensational clutch hitting first from the Captain and then from our new stud. Three errors, four hits and six runs later we had blown the game open. The Austrians were stunned. The Irish supporters in the crowd and our bench were going crazy. Brian Morris loped in from the bullpen to close it out, striking out their last chance batter to seal the deal. We had beaten Austria for the first time. We were 2-0 in the tournament. We were legitimate.
It took us a while to get going, we ate in the canteen/tent, kind of hung around getting our stuff together even though it was quite late. I was standing at the fence looking out onto the floodlight field and I realised about four or five of the guys were doing the same, just savouring the moment. I thought to myself, this is it, this is the pinnacle of Irish baseball right now and this is as high as we have ever been. Finally, after everything that had come beforehand, we meant something on the map of European baseball.
We didn’t drive home as much as float home. The supporters were all in the lobby drinking and joking around. I went up to shower and change and then went back down for a victory beer. I heard clapping while in the lift, when I got out there was a big cheer, all the supporters were still there and every time a player got out of the lift or came in from the front door they got a huge round of applause. Very, very humbling, flattering and rewarding. As I sat down to sip on a cold German beer the feeling of satisfaction, fulfilment and reward was enormous, listening to the applause as each player joined us in the lobby. Quite a night.''
- Read more at 'Pitching in - ten years on the Irish baseball team'
- The Top ten games in Irish baseball history list page
The games listed so far:
2. Ireland v Austria: European Pool B Championships 2004
3. Ireland v Hungary: European Pool B Championships 2000
4. Ireland v Yugoslavia: European Pool B Championships 1996
5. Ireland v Serbia Montenegro European Championships 2004
6. Ireland v Slocum Fenway Park 2001 (pictures here)
7. Ireland v Finland European Championships 2004
8. Ireland v Slocum RI tour 2001
9. Ireland v Lithuania Sweden 2002
10. Ireland v Serbia Montenegro European Championships 2004 3rd