The Netherlands advanced to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic in dramatic fashion, using a walk-off sacrifice fly to beat Cuba, the No. 1 team in the world. The scrappy Orange survived the loss of their No. 3 and 4 hitters with a mix of small-ball and timely hitting, including an eighth-inning, game-tying home run from Andrelton Simmons.
The Dutch were missing Roger Bernadina from the lineup after he was slow to recover from being hit by a pitch against Japan, and lost Wladimir Balentien in the first after he pulled a hamstring. Despite their absence, the Orange took the lead first.
Randolph Oduber, who started in place of Bernadina, doubled into the left field corner to start the third and Simmons followed with an infield hit. A sacrifice advanced both runners and, with one out, Balentien’s replacement, Hainley Statia, was hit to load the bases.
Andruw Jones stepped up and knocked a sacrifice fly to left for the Netherlands’ first run, and Curt Smith followed with a RBI-single to make it 2-0. That was all the Orange would get in the inning, and Cuba mounted their own rally in the fourth.
Yuliesky Gourriel started off the inning with a double and scored on a Jose Fernández single. Orange starter Orlando Yntema induced a double play, but José Abreu crushed a pitch to dead centre that was a certain home run from the time it left the bat. It was his third tape measure shot in the WBC.
After a hit batter, Yntema’s day was over, but Cuba would do no better in the inning than tie the ballgame. Shairon Martis, who pitched the Classic’s only no-hitter in 2006, bailed out Yntema with a strikeout.
The Dutch set to work in the bottom of the fourth. Kalian Sams walked and went to second on a grounder. Oduber hit what should have been the second out, but Cuba’s shortstop, Bárbaro Arruebarruena, threw to third to try and get the streaking Sams, and both runners were safe. Oduber stole second and Simmons came through with a sacrifice fly to get the run across. The Netherlands’ shortstop did a nice job of hitting a low pitch and guiding it to the outfield with a deliberate swing.
Oduber attempted a steal of third with two outs, which caught Cuba by surprise. Catcher Frank Morejon came up throwing, but Gourriel was not covering third and the throw dribbled behind the bag. By the time Cuba recovered, Oduber had raced around with the second run of the inning and a 4-2 lead.
Vladimir García exited after 3 2/3 and Norberto González entered for the red-and-blue. González got out of the jam with the score at 4-2, and Cuba got to work in the fifth.
Pinch hitter Luís Rivera reached on a base hit to right and move up on another safety by Alexei Bell. Bell, who also came off the bench, lined a ball that Sams did not read properly and dove for a moment too late. Sams is normally a left fielder, but was pressed into emergency duty with Bernadina out. Gourriel drove both runners in with a two-run double that Sams also misplayed, letting the line drive soar over his out-stretched glove in deep centre.
Martis buckled down to get the final two outs, walking Frederich Cepeda, but getting Abreu to strike out on a pitch in the dirt. Neither team threatened to break the 4-4 deadlock until the seventh when Raúl González led off the inning with a double into the left field corner. Bell then drew a base-on-balls, but despite the threat, Orange manager Hensley Meulens left Martis in the game.
The right-hander delivered, getting Gourriel on a poorly executed bunt attempt and inducing a groundball from Fernández. It was the second twin killing of the contest and seventh in two games against Cuba.
The Dutch had three hits in the bottom of the inning, but González got some help from Eriel Sánchez, Cuba’s second catcher. Sánchez caught Jonathan Schoop stealing and González picked up a key strikeout of Xander Bogaerts on his trademark back-foot slider. Bogaerts had entered for Yurendell de Caster, who badly pulled a muscle in the fifth, the third player the Dutch were missing.
Cuba took back the lead in the eighth against a tiring Martis. Martis walked Cepeda again and gave up a single to Abreu, though he got a fly out from the bat of Alfredo Despaigne, who came in to the game hitting .438 in the tournament.
Leon Boyd came in to face Yasmany Tomás, who stroked a one-base hit to right to score Cepeda. Sánchez then augmented the lead to 6-4 on a sacrifice fly before Raúl González hit a grounder for the third out.
Norberto González had been unblemished through 3 1/3 innings but was finally touched in the bottom of the inning. Sams earned his second walk, and was almost stranded there as González kept pounding the slider on the back half of the plate, getting the next two batters to whiff on the pitch.
Simmons stepped up with all the momentum in Cuba’s favour and González looking stronger by the batter. The Atlanta Braves’ young shortstop finally solved Cuba’s hurler on his 2-1 pitch, slamming the ball into the left centre field bleachers and tying the game at six.
Loek Van Mil, closer for the Orange, stepped on to the hill for the top of the ninth and almost immediately ran in to trouble. Bell went down swinging, but Gourriel laced a single to left and stole second. Fernández got his 11th hit of the WBC to put runners on the corners and bring Cuba’s most feared hitters to the plate.
Van Mil bore down on Cepeda, jamming him twice and getting a key strikeout. The 7-foot-1 righty then got ahead of Abreu, who hit a fly ball to centre that Sams was able to catch for the third out.
González got the first out of the ninth before departing in favour of Yander Guevara. Guevara got an unlucky break on a bouncer to third that Gourriel muffed, putting Andruw Jones on first. Curt Smith drove him to second on a single over Gourriel’s head and Bogaerts stepped up with a runner in scoring position in the biggest at bat of his career.
The 20-year old delivered a line drive against new pitcher Raciel Iglesías to right to load the bases. Cuban manager Víctor Mesa, ever one for the quick hook, inserted Diosdany Castillo, who got two strikes on Kalian Sams. Sams took the fourth pitch to deep centre, erasing the memory of his troubles there, as Jones tagged and ran excitedly home on the fly ball.
Sams knew the ball was hit far enough to plate his teammate, and leaped out of the box, pumping his fists in celebration. The entire Orange bench hurtled from the dugout to greet the elated Jones, whose Atlanta Braves came up short in two World Series earlier in his career.
Sams did not have a hit in the contest and struck out twice, but scored both times he reached base and had his second RBI in six games. Simmons was 2-for-4 and drove in three, scoring twice and raising his average in his first WBC to .360. Jones also had a hitting brace and is hitting at a .444 clip.
Oduber, the emergency starter, reached base three times, scored twice, and created havoc on the basepaths with three stolen bases. The Netherlands was 3-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Cuba matched the Dutch in hits with 12, but committed two key errors, both of which came with two outs and netted the Orange a run. Gourriel paced the club with three hits and two RBI and Fernández and Abreu also had multiple knocks. Abreu, however, stranded five on base and struck out twice. The red-and-blue was eliminated despite setting records for team batting average (.343) and slugging percentage (.577).
Guevara was the hard luck loser, pitching to only two batters. García gave up five hits and two walks in his start, surrendering three earned runs and sending three down on strikes. González kept the Dutch off balance for 4 2/3 frames, one inning shy of the record for relief innings in a game. He struck out five and gave up five hits, two free passes, and a pair of runs.
Van Mil earned the biggest victory of his career with a scoreless ninth. Yntema and Martis both pitched 3 2/3 innings, with the former giving up two runs on four hits and a walk. Martis issued three hits and was touched for five hits and four runs. Boyd got two outs to lower his 2013 WBC ERA to 1.59.
Cuba will have to wait until 2017 for another shot at the world championship, and will certainly be seeking revenge against a Dutch team that defeated them in the 2011 World Cup and eliminated them in the second round in the third Classic.
The Netherlands will look to avenge a painful loss themselves, taking on Japan in the second round finale to determine the seeding for the semifinals. The showdown in the Tokyo Dome will take place on Mar. 12 at 11 a.m. GMT.
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