When Andrey Vesenev struck out his 11th German batter of the game to bring down the curtain on the 2006 European Regional here in Kutno, Poland, Russia had accomplished as one-sided a performance as this tournament has ever seen.
Yes, this was the most competitive this regional has ever been. But, that being said, there was no denying Russia was the best team in the field, especially after manhandling the team from Mannheim, 4-0.
How dominant were they?
* The Russians went 8-0.
* They outscored their opponents 64-2.
* They beat all three other tourney semifinalists, 20-2.
* They had a team ERA of 0.14 (one earned run in 43 innings).
* They used eight different pitchers, and not one of them pitched more than 3 innings until Vesenev went the distance Thursday.
And now they’re off to the LLWS for the second straight year. It’s the fifth time in six years that Russia has represented Europe in Williamsport.
“They were the best team all week, and they were the best team today,” acknowledged Germany coach Kai Leiter.
Not only did Vesenev throw a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts, but he was 3-for-3, and his RBI double in the fourth looked like it was going to stand up until Russia struck for three more runs in the sixth. Ninth-place hitter Andrey Shevchenko’s 2-run single was the big blow.
Manager Alexey Erofeev’s team, which went 0-3 at the LLWS last year, will find itself in an even tougher pool in ’06, joining Mexico, Caribbean and Far East. Although he has six returning players from last year’s club.
“We are very, very happy – we beat the best in Europe, and now we will try to beat the best in the world,” he said, smiling for one of the few times all week. “We hope our experience and pitching will be good enough.”
Russian coach Andrey Tselikovski said that when this team boarded the train in Moscow for the 20-hour ride to Kutno, they had packed for a month.
“Not only that, but we only bought one-way train tickets,” he said. “Our motto is: If you don’t come to win, don’t come at all.”
LOOSE AS A GERMAN GOOSE: It was the 5th inning of a 1-0 championship game, the umpires had just danced to YMCA and Germany’s Leiter, who you would have expected to be very intense, was on his way to the third-base coach’s box. “You guys,” he said to a group of umpires seated behind the backstop watching the game, “need work.”
DASVADANYA DEPT.: My mother made me go to summer school when I was 10, and I opted to take Russian. I understand a little bit, but not enough to underdstand what gruff Russia manager was yewlling – and I mean yelling – at his players all week.
So I sat next to Piotrek Lapaj, a fine Polish umpire, during the title game. Russian and Polish are pretty similar.
Most of what Erofeev screemed at his players after striking out or making an error was about what I had expected.
But one caught me off-guard.
With a runner at third and one out, Russia’s Mikhail Novozilov struck out and. Erofeev barked at him all the way back to the dugout.
I asked Lapaj to interpret.
“He said, “What did you do that for? You know our next batter can’t hit.””
Ironically, he was speaking about Shevchenko, who delivered the 2-run single later in the game.
NOTES: Plate umpires for the final two games we’re both from SoCal. Sam Griffith from Dist. 68 in Mission Viejo, who’s been coming to Kutno since 2002, had his first championship game. Dave Diaz from Dist. 21 in the Inland Empire, making his first trip to the European Regional, had the third-place game (Moldova beat Austria 4-1). Dave is responsible for the ground crew at the West Regional in San Bernardino…Canadian umpire Gil Ladoucer, who has been coming to Kutno each summer for nine years, announced at the umpire breakfast that this will be his last go-round. Gil was the single-biggest reason why visiting teams and umpires have supported the local orphanage for the last seven years…There have been fewer friendship games in this tourney than ever before, mostly due to the weather. Today, Netherlands met Italy, and the Slovenia coaches umpired. Doesn’t get much friendlier than that…Thursday morning, it’s off to Utena, Lithuania, about 8 hours away, for the start of the second-ever Lithuania Juniors Friendship Tournament. Two American teams – from Dublin and Irvine – have been in Lithuania for a few days, touring and practicing. Five of the kids on the Moscow entry in the Lithuania tournament played last year for the Russia 12-year-old team that went to the LLWS…Talk to you tomorrow from Lithuania.