The semifinals of the World Baseball Classic are halfway set. With Netherlands second upset over Cuba in four days, Japan and the Netherlands will play tomorrow morning to determine seeding, then travel to San Francisco and await the two qualifers from the double-elimination pool of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the United States, and Italy.
After the jump, we'll break down Netherlands' seesaw win, then run down yesterday's two less-consequential other WBC games; the Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico seeding game and Venezuela's quest for a modicum of baseball dignity against Spain.
Netherlands 7 Cuba 6
This is what all World Baseball Classic games should be like. Between the bottom of the third and the top of the fifth, both sides traded two-run innings back and forth like they were Pogs in a bad 1995 analogy. Netherlands went up 2-0 on an Andruw Jones sac fly and a Curt Smith single, then Cuba tied the game on a Jose Fernandez single and a solo Jose Abreu homer. Netherlands went up 4-2 on an Andrelton Simmons single and a throwing error by Cuba catcher Frank Morejon on a subsequent stolen base attempt, then Cuba tied the game at four on a two-run Yulieski Gourriel double.
With the score tied at four, things went silent until the eighth inning. That's when Cuba took their first lead of the game on a Yasmany Tomas RBI single followed by an Eriel Sanchez sac fly. This time it was Netherlands' turn to match, and they did that in the bottom of the inning when Andrelton Simmons hit a two-run homer to tie the game up at six.
Think about this for a second: three different times in this game, one team scored two runs in an inning only to be immediately answered by the other team. In an elimination game, no less! If I could wake up to a baseball game like this every day, I'd be a very happy man.
Cuba made a fatal error in the top of the ninth, though: they failed to score. They got a runner to third with one out, but Loek Van Mil struck out Frederich Cepeda and got Jose Abreu to fly out, averting any damage. In a game full of seesaw run-scoring, Cuba suddenly lost the ability to answer the Netherlands' rally. In the bottom of the ninth, the Dutch did just that. Andruw Jones reached on a fielding error, Curt Smith singled, Xander Boegarts singled to load the bases, and Kalian Sams sent the Netherlands onto the semifinals with a sacrifice fly.
Netherlands will play Japan tomorrow morning at 6 AM for seeding purposes. The finals will start on March 17th in San Francisco, and they'll be there for that, too, as the first European team to make it this far in the WBC.
Dominican Republic 4 Puerto Rico 2
Technically, this game was meaningless since both teams had already clinched second round berths before the game even started. Still, with the winner avoiding a second rounder opener against the USA and the electric-even-through-the-TV atmosphere at Hiram Bithorn Stadium last night, it hardly felt meaningless. This is the sort of game the World Baseball Classic was created for.
It was a tense, back-and-forth game, too. The Dominican ran out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but Puerto Rico took the lead Mike Aviles hit a two-run homer on the very first pitch that Lorenzo Barcelo threw after coming on to relieve Wandy Rodriguez in the fourth inning. Unfortunately, Puerto Rican starter Orlando Roman was already out of the game by that point and the Puerto Rican bullpen was not up to the task of holding the lead. Jose De La Torre gave up a game-tying homer to Robinson Cano in the top of the fifth, then Jose Berrios came in and gave up an RBI double to Alejandro De Aza that put the Dominican Republic back on top. Berrios stayed in for the seventh inning and plunked Edwin Encarnacion, then gave up a ground rule double to Miguel Tejada and an RBI groundout to Nelson Cruz. That was pretty much all she wrote for Puerto Rico. The 4-2 final score held up.
As mentioned, the win means that the Dominican Republic will open second round play in Miami at 1 PM ET tomorrow against Italy, while Puerto Rico will play in the 8 PM game against the USA. This is the second straight WBC in which Puerto Rico and the US have faced each other in the first game of the second round. In 2009, Puerto Rico won the game 11-1.
Venezuela 11 Spain 6
Almost nothing went according to plan for Venezuela in this WBC, but at least they didn't lose to Spain. Even that didn't seem like a sure thing when Spain jumped on Ramon A. Ramirez for three first inning runs, but Venezuela piled six runs on Chris Manno and Eddie Morlan in the fourth, then put five up against various Spanish relievers later in the game after Spain cut the lead to 6-5. Miguel Cabrera had a home run and three RBIs, Pablo Sandoval homered, and Carlos Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice. Unless the rules change, Spain will have to qualify for the 2017 WBC after going winless in their tournament debut.