By Cliff Corcoran
With the Netherlands’ dramatic late-game comeback to defeat and eliminate Cuba on Monday morning, the second full week of the 2013 World Baseball Classic opens with just six teams still standing in the tournament. From the eight teams playing in the Far East, only Japan and the Netherlands remain. Back West, the Round 2 field was set with Team USA’s 9-4 comeback win over Canada on Sunday night, with the USA moving on to join Puerto Rico, the surprising Italian team and undefeated Dominican Republic in Miami where Round 2 play will begin on Tuesday afternoon.
Thus far the underdog Dutch and Italian teams have been the story of the Classic along with the powerhouses they have left in the dust. South Korea, which took Japan into extra innings in the final of the 2009 WBC, was eliminated from Round 1 via a tiebreak. Venezuela, the team Korea defeated in the semifinals in ’09, went 1-2 in Round 1, its only win coming against 0-3 Spain, and was eliminated. Now Cuba, which made it to the finals in 2006 and looked like a tournament favorite early in this year’s Classic, is gone as well.
This is actually the second straight WBC in which Cuba has been eliminated in Round 2, but the first time they’ve been eliminated by someone other than the eventual champion. In 2009, the Cubans lost both of their Round 2 games to eventual champion Japan by a combined score of 11-0. This year, the Dutch were their undoing, beating them 6-2 and 7-6, the latter via a stirring late-game comeback.
Cuba took a 6-4 lead over the Netherlands in the eighth inning Monday morning, but with two outs in the bottom of the inning, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a game-tying, two-run home run off winded Cuban lefty Norberto Gonzalez. Loek Van Mil, the Netherlands’ 7-foot-1 closer, wiggled out of a jam in the top of the ninth, and the Dutch rallied in the bottom half thanks to an error by Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gurriel that put Andruw Jones on base with what would prove to be the winning run. The Netherlands loaded the bases on singles by Curt Smith and top Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts, then won it on a sac fly to center by centerfielder Kalian Sams, who had been a late injury replacement for the Nationals’ Roger Bernadina (bruised wrist) and who had an adventurous day in the field prior to reeling in the final out of the top of the ninth and driving in the decisive run of the game.
Japan and the Netherlands will play a seeding game on Tuesday morning (6 a.m. EDT) before moving on to the semifinals where the winner of that game will play the runner-up from Round 2 in Miami and the loser will play the winner of that group. The semifinals take place in San Francisco this weekend, giving the two Pool 1 teams time to travel and overcome any resulting jetlag, during which time all of the Round 2 action in Pool 2 will take place in Miami. Pool 2 play opens Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. EDT with Italy taking on the Dominican Republic. Team USA will then play Puerto Rico at 8 p.m. As it was out East, Round 2 is a double-elimination round with the losers of Tuesday’s games playing on Wednesday to avoid elimination and the winners of Tuesday’s games playing Thursday to claim the first semifinal spot from that group. Tuesday’s winner and Wednesday’s loser will play Friday to determine the other semifinalist, then the two advancing teams will play Saturday to determine the seeding.