Entering Monday's World Baseball Classic qualifier final, Panama had seen 48 of its native sons suit up for Major League clubs in the sport's long history. Brazil had only one (Yan Gomes), and that achievement didn't come until May of this year.
Put another way, Panama entered the qualifying rounds of the international tournament ranked No. 15 in the world by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF). Brazil was No. 28, trailing WBC qualifier poolmates Nicaragua (14) and Colombia (19).
But as fate often teaches, you can pour all the numbers you want into the leadup to a baseball game, but there is only one set that actually counts -- the results.
In a major upset, Brazil defeated Panama, 1-0, in Monday's qualifier final at Panama City's Rod Carew Stadium. With the win, the country advances to its first-ever World Baseball Classic. The Brazilians, guided by manager and Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, finished the tournament with a perfect 3-0 record, having defeated Panama, 3-2, in its opening game and Colombia, 7-1, in the final play-in game.
Rafael Fernandes, who has spent the last two seasons in Japan, starred on the mound, allowing only two hits and one walk over his six shutout innings to earn the win. He exited with the one-run advantage after his battery mate Gomes singled in Royals prospect Paulo Orlando in the third frame.
Astros farmhand Murilo Gouvea tossed 2 1/3 innings of no-hit ball to preserve the close lead, but he exited in the ninth after a walk and sac bunt put Isaias Velasquez on second for Panama with only one out. Thyago Vieira -- a 19-year-old right-hander who has not pitched higher than the Venezuelan Summer League for the Mariners -- gave up a hit to Carlos Ruiz before striking out Carlos Lee and Ruben Rivera to secure the historic win. It was his second save in three games.
Gomes, who was recently traded from the Blue Jays to the Indians, finished 1-for-4 at the plate with an RBI as Brazil's No. 3 hitter. Orlando went 2-for-4 from the top spot while Rays third base prospect Leonardo Reginatto was 3-for-4 to improve his tournament average to .583 (7-for-12).
Brazil becomes the fourth and final qualifier after Spain, Canada and Chinese Taipei had previously won their individual modified double elimination tournaments. The WBC kicks off in Taichung, Taiwan and Fukuoka, Japan on March 2 with games in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Phoenix to follow.