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Dutch shock Cuba to make WBC semifinals

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The Netherlands’ players began spilling out of the dugout after Xander Bogaerts’ soft fly ball touched down in right field, and Andruw Jones rounded third representing the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of what may have been the most important game in the history of baseball in the Netherlands.

Except Jones didn’t come home, which forced a group of players bursting at the seams to trudge back to the dugout and wait through a Cuban mound visit and a pitching change before they could finally let loose.

No matter. The Dutch may have started their celebration a bit early, but there figures to be many more chances to get it right going forward.

Kalian Sams drove in the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth, and the Netherlands pulled off another stunner with a 7-6 victory over Cuba that sent the Dutch through to the semifinals of the 2013 World Baseball Classic on Monday night at Tokyo Dome.

“It’s something very special,” outfielder Wladimir Balentien said. “Nobody even thought we were going to survive the first round. Everybody that thought wrong, they’re surprised right now.”

The Cubans sure got a shock to the system.

Victor Mesa’s club committed a number of miscues in the field and on the base paths, including a ninth-inning error, in the loss.

“It’s hard to win the way we played,” Mesa said through a translator. “An elimination game is like a playoff game. If we can’t play good defense, it’s always tough to beat a good opponent.”

After his team fell to the Dutch 6-2 to open the second round, Mesa was translated as having remarked that he didn’t think the Dutch ‘were that good, to be honest.’

His tune has likely changed by now.

“Like I told the guys before the game, the better team will win,” Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. “So the better team won this game tonight.”

Heading into the bottom of the eighth, a glance at the scoreboard said the Cubans, who led 6-4, were the better team.

That was before Andrelton Simmons drove Sams in with a two-run home run to left that tied the score. Bogaerts’ one-out hit in the ninth loaded the bases and Sams plated in the biggest run in the history of Dutch baseball with his sacrifice fly.

“I tried to get the ball up in the air and they were playing up and in,” Sams said. “So I’m happy I put the ball in play and we got a run.”

Simmons finished 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs for the Dutch. Jones had a pair of hits and an RBI, while Curt Smith pitched in with an RBI on a 3-for-5 night.

Loek Van Mil picked up the win in relief, while Xander Guevara took the loss.

The Netherlands will face Japan on Tuesday in a game to determine seeding for the semifinals. They’ll then participate in the WBC’s final round, which gets under way on March 17 in San Francisco.

The Dutch hope to be back at full-strength after being overtaken by a sudden rash of injuries.

Washington Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina, didn’t start due to a wrist injury after being hit by a pitch during the team’s 16-4 loss to Japan Sunday night.

Balentien, a member of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, strained a muscle in his leg on a stolen base attempt in the first inning. He stayed in right for the top of the second, but left the game soon after the inning.

“Well, I don’t know if he’s going to be able to play tomorrow,” Meulens said. “Those leg injuries, he’s strained a quad muscle in his left leg, and you know, we have to see the treatment the rest of tonight and tomorrow and get some more testing done if he is able to play again or what the severity of the injury is. Right now, I can’t answer that question.”

Starting third baseman Yurendell DeCaster replaced Balentien in right, but went down grimacing in pain after suffering a leg injury while trying to beat out a double play at first.

The contest was held on the two-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that stuck Japan in March 2011.

“We recognize they’ve got great damage,” Mesa said. “We all knew what happened. Not only in Cuba, but all the nations of the world were worried about Japan. We were all sad. I am (hoping) the future of Japan is going to be bright.”

Meulens, who spent three years in Japan as a player with the Chiba Lotte Marines and Yakult Swallows, expressed similar sentiments.

“I lived in Shin-Urayasu (Chiba Prefecture) when I played for the Chiba Lotte Marines, and I know that area was devastated with the tsunami a couple of years ago,” Meulens said. “I was devastated because I know how hard people work to make a living down there and how defenseless people were when that came through.”

Jose Abreu had one last hurrah in what turned out to be his last game at this year’s WBC. The infielder, known as the Cuban Barry Bonds, hit a home run to straight-away center, and was 2-for-5 with an RBI.