Netherlands manager Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens and Andruw Jones, who is serving as one of the team’s coaches, staged an impromptu home run derby during practice on Tuesday, prompting one of the team’s staffers to remark that the Dutch had the best-hitting coaching staff in the World Baseball Classic.
They’ve got some pretty good players, too. Just ask Cuba.
Wladimir Balentien continued his scorching run at the plate with a pair of home runs, Yurendell de Caster and Kalian Sams also went deep and the Dutch routed Cuba 14-1 in a game that ended after seven innings, because of the early-termination rule, on Wednesday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
“We knew this was a game we really needed,” Balentien said. “I was focused during every AB (at-bat), trying to put every AB together as a great AB, like it was my last one. I need to give the credit to the guys who got on base early to give me the chance to get us on the board.”
The Dutch put themselves in position for a second straight appearance in the WBC semifinals. They had to wait for the result of the night game, Japan vs. Israel, to find out whether the win was enough or if they’d have to contend with the WBC tiebreakers.
“We feel great about our chances,” Meulens said. “We’ll be feeling a lot better if Japan can win the game tonight.”
There was no such mystery for the Cubans, who were eliminated.
“That was a one-sided game,” Cuban manager Carlos Marti said. “The Netherlands hitters just attacked our pitchers. We couldn’t fight against them because the Netherlands’ hitters were too strong for our pitchers.”
Meulens, who hit 54 home runs in two seasons with the Yakult Swallows (1995-96), sent a few balls over the fences at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday, even taking a jog around the bases, during the Dutch workout.
Current Swallows slugger Balentien followed in his manager’s footsteps Wednesday. Balentien hit a three-run home run in the first inning and led off the fourth with a solo shot. He also had an RBI single. Overall, Balentien is 13-for-22 with three home runs and nine RBIs in six games.
“To keep my condition hot like this, first of all I have to give those guys (his teammates) the credit,” Balentien said. “They make it easy for me. They get on base. Every time as a cleanup hitter, you want to be in an situation where you can drive in runs and help the team do something. If you don’t have those guys on base, you won’t be able to do that.”
Balentien is so in the zone that he jokingly predicted a couple of home runs during practice and then actually delivered.
“I really meant it, but at the time I was just joking with Bam-Bam,” Balentien said.
De Caster hit a two-run home run and finished with four RBIs. Sams connected on a solo shot to center, and Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop drove in one run each.
The Dutch lineup is running like a finely tuned machine. Profar has been in the thick of it and continued his smooth transition from No. 2 to No. 3 in the order with three hits on Wednesday.
“Anywhere I hit in that lineup, I’ll feel the same,” Profar said. “We have great hitters in the lineup. It takes the pressure off. I don’t feel like I have to get a hit. I have Coco (Balentien) behind me. I know if I don’t do it, he will do it. If he doesn’t do it, Didi (Gregorius) will do it.”
Starter Diegomar Markwell benefited from the run support and earned the win. He allowed one run on four hits in six innings.
Cuba would’ve needed help from Israel to stay alive even with a win but couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
Starter Lazaro Blanco was charged with the loss, allowing four runs on five hits in 1⅓ innings. Three of the five pitchers Cuba used allowed two or more runs.
Victor Victor Mesa drove in the team’s only run with a double in the fifth.