Nationals rally to defeat Panama

Nationals rally to defeat Panama

VIERA, Fla. -- Once they leave the state of Florida, there's no question Team Panama faces an uphill climb. Being lumped into a World Baseball Classic pool with powerhouses like Puerto Rico and Cuba ensures that much.

But Panama has high hopes for its Classic chances, and it proved competitive in a dry run against a split squad of Washington Nationals players on Saturday. Carlos Lee, Sherman Obando and Manuel Rodriguez all homered, but Washington defeated Panama, 10-7.

"It could get better, but all in all, we did good," Panama manager Anibal Reluz said through a translator. "It's experience and it's the first time. We took care of all the areas we need to take care of."

With one workout in Viera left before the team boards a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, Panama will be able to take a number of positives from the exhibition contest at Space Coast Stadium.

Right-hander Lenin Picota, who is slated to make the Game 1 start against Puerto Rico on March 7, looked sharp in pitching a scoreless tune-up inning, one of eight Panama pitchers to see mound time in the contest.

The offense looked to be in form as well, with the No. 3-6 hitters in Panama's lineup -- Olmedo Saenz, Lee, Obando and Carlos Ruiz -- combining for six hits, three runs scored and five runs batted in.

Panama will lean on veteran players in the tournament, but perhaps the greater value was getting many of the youngsters into action early. Panama is one of the more youthful teams in the tournament, and if it is to progress past the first round, one or more of those talents will have to step up.

"It's exciting," Saenz said. "I like it, because there's a lot of kids who don't have experience. This is a good moment for them. They can relax a little bit and see it's just baseball -- they're not facing players from another planet. They're ready for this."

With the announced attendance at 1,630, Lee delivered a wake-up call exclusively for a cheering section of about 350 in the second inning, blasting a solo home run to left off Nationals starter Andrew Good.

Lee, who hit 32 home runs last year for the Milwaukee Brewers, went down for a low-and-in changeup, prompting loud trumpets and chants of "Panama! Panama!"

Several busloads of Panamanians proved festive throughout the whole nine-inning affair, cheering wildly and performing musical salutations to their team.

For the players, the celebratory atmosphere was a reminder of their home country, as well as a preview of what awaits in San Juan.

"That's the way Panamanian fans are," Obando said. "They're real supportive of their teams and some of those guys show their emotions when the games are played. They have an opportunity to see players who are representing their country, so everyone is emotional in the stands."

As for Lee? He had provided Good with a taste of what the fans hope will greet more befuddled pitchers for Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Netherlands.

"He's a good hitter -- he's born to hit," Saenz said. "It's still early, I think his adrenaline and intensity are going to take over. To take a changeup down and in like that and keep it fair, you've got to be great."

Panama increased its lead to two runs in the fourth inning when it loaded the bases with nobody out on three consecutive singles against veteran left-hander Mike Stanton. Ruiz plated Saenz with a clean hit to left, but Stanton struck out Freddy Herrera and got Jonny Lasso to hit into an inning-ending double play.

The plate appearances alone against a pitcher like Stanton, Saenz said, might give the rookies confidence.

"That's a guy who has a lot of years in the big leagues and World Series experience," Saenz said. "It means a lot for everybody. They can say they faced Mike Stanton after watching him on TV, and had a chance to get a hit off him."

The Nationals reclaimed the lead in the fourth inning against Davis Romero, powered by Frank Diaz's three-run homer and a run-scoring hit by Tyrell Godwin. Panama fired back with two runs in the top half of the fifth, backed by a run-scoring groundout and Obando's solo homer to left-center off Valerio de los Santos, but it was the last time Panama led in the contest.

Obando, who admitted to being slightly emotional before the first pitch of the game, said his first home run for Panama was no big deal. The real games start Tuesday.

"Just another one," Obando said. "It felt good, and hopefully I can open some eyes over here again, and somebody will give me a chance to come back and play here."

After Washington's Ian Desmond singled in a run, giving the Nationals a 7-6 advantage, Larry Broadway left no doubt with a three-run homer off Panama reliever Santos Hernandez. The two clubs played a phantom bottom of the ninth inning, allowing Panama's promising young closer Manuel Corpas to get his three outs of work in.

"We played very good," Reluz said. "I believe everything is going to go well. I believe we are in good shape and I have confidence in my team."

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.