Australia’s team of baseball battlers went close to pulling off a memorable sporting upset on Thursday night before the Los Angeles Dodgers and their $220 million payroll came to the party to win 4-2 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The Southern Thunder showed courage and no shortage of skill to build a 2-0 lead, which looked as though it would be enough until a two-run homer from Dodgers superstar Yasiel Puig kick-started a horror eighth innings for the home side.
Australia then got within one hit of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat when Luke Hughes and Tim Kennelly got on base for one out in the ninth.
But despite the excitement of witnessing an Australian team hold their own against the best – and the sight of Cuban escapee and renowned crowd pleaser Puig rocketing a home run and not a six into the Victor Trumper stand – one undeniable question remained.
What real impact will baseball’s historic first appearance at the SCG in 100 years have on the lasting popularity of the game in Australia given few were there to see it?
The main event, which is this weekend’s Major League season-opener between LA and Arizona is virtually sold out for Saturday and Sunday and promises to be a roaring success.
But for the first look at the SCG’s remarkable transformation, numbers were disappointing – even though they cheered every hit and sung along to Take Me Out To The Ball Game.
Nonetheless, it was a significant night for Australia’s team of hard-working journeymen and rookies, who were taking on a side tipped to win this year’s World Series.
Australia beat heavyweights Cuba and Japan on their way to a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and in 2009 the green and gold beat the Seattle Mariners in Mexico.
Knocking off the Dodgers on home soil would have been another feather in the cap for a team which has long batted above its average, but they get another chance to shine on Friday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Southern Thunder made their move in the third innings with a sacrifice fly from Stefan Welch into right-field which allowed Mitch Denning to cross the plate, before they consolidated in the sixth when Brad Harman scored off an error.
Ryan Battaglia and Harman both smashed two-base drives down the left-field line for Australia in a lion-hearted start against Dodgers pitcher Zach Lee.
Australian pitchers Ryan Searle, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Shayne Lindsay, Tristan Crawford and Dae-Sung Koo rotated on the mound with success but things didn’t go well for Matthew Williams at the top of the eighth.
Puig launched him over the fence between left and centre field, before a wild pitch allowed Chone Figgins to put LA in front.