World Baseball Classic Day 3 roundup: Netherlands, Japan rally for late wins
- Thanks to a walk-off walk and a late home run, both the Netherlands and Japan avoided upset losses and likely punched their tickets to the second round, while in Seoul, a crafty veteran surfaced for China.
A comedy of literal errors helped the Netherlands avoid an upset loss in Pool A play, and top-ranked Japan had to sweat it out against Australia to remain perfect in the World Baseball Classic. Meanwhile, in Seoul, an unlikely former MLB veteran helped lowly China keep pace with mighty Cuba, if only for a few innings.
How Do You Say "Walkoff" In Dutch?
A throwing error, a hit by pitch, a single and a bases-loaded walk after a pop-up was called off: That's the bizarre way in which the Dutch capped off a late rally and walked off (again, literally) against Chinese Taipei, taking home a 6–5 win in Seoul. Now 2–0, the Netherlands sits tied atop Pool A with Israel, with both teams squaring off on Wednesday night to determine the winner of the group, although both are advancing anyway with Chinese Taipei and South Korea both 0–2.
As easy a time as the Netherlands had against Korea in its WBC opener, things were much tougher against Chinese Taipei. The Dutch jumped out to a 4–1 lead after four innings, with Didi Gregorius and Dashenko Ricardo driving in two a piece. But Chinese Taipei, coming off a crushing 15–7 loss to Israel, struck for three runs in the top of the fifth on a two-run homer by Chih-hao Chang and an RBI groundout by Yi-Chuan Lin off reliever Lars Huijer. That's how things stayed all the way until the eighth, when the Dutch put the first two on, survived a double play off the bat of Jonathan Schoop, then tied the game, 5–5, on Gregorius's third double of the day.
That set up a cringeworthy bottom of the ninth for Chinese Taipei. The frame started with Ricardo reaching on a throwing error by Chiang, followed by Randolph Oduber getting hit by a pitch. Andrelton Simmons laced a single up the middle to load the bases for Jurickson Profar, who swung at the first pitch and popped it up, but was granted a reprieve because his teammates had called for time just before the pitch was thrown. Given a second chance, Profar worked the count to 3–2 against Hung-Wen Chen before taking ball four up and away for the walk-off walk and some delicious shrimp. Cue the music!
While it wasn't pretty, the Netherlands has punched its ticket to the second round. The win also means that Israel will join the Dutch in the next pool in the team's first ever WBC appearance. Chinese Taipei, meanwhile, will face South Korea, also winless, to finish off both teams' WBC stays.
(By the way, the answer to my question above is "weglopen," if Google Translate can be trusted.)
Japan Doesn't Go Down Under (See What I Did There?)
Like the Netherlands, Japan rolled in its WBC opener, bashing Cuba, but things were a bit tougher against minnow Australia, with the Kangaroos (Walla-bats? K'ing Koalas? Something with an echidna?) taking an early 1–0 lead on a solo homer by Allan de San Miguel and holding Japan scoreless until the fifth. From there, though, Japan was able to tie the game up on a sacrifice fly by Nobu Matsuda, then take the lead for good on a solo shot by Sho Nakata in the seventh that brought the Tokyo Dome to its feet just as Matsuda's homer against Cuba did the day before, though without Matsuda's epic fist pump at the end.
(Shoutout the sweet dad spectacles on Australian reliever Matt Williams, though.)
All in all, it wasn't a bad showing for Australia, one of the weaker teams in the tournament and boasting next to zero major league talent. Still, it wasn't enough against Japan, which is now 2–0, in command of Pool B and a lock to advance to the second round, likely alongside Cuba, which downed China on Tuesday night. Speaking of Cuba-China!
Bruce Chen Almost Did The Thing
The main takeaway from Cuba-China—a 6–0 win by the former—is that Cuba is now in good position to move on, needing only to beat Australia in the teams' matchup on Thursday night to lock up a spot in the next round. But the big story of the game was the man on the mound: longtime MLB veteran Bruce Chen.
As you can imagine, China is not exactly a baseball superpower; hence the need to dig up Chen, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 6 1/3 innings with the Indians in 2015, to start its WBC opener. This despite the fact that Chen's two previous WBC appearances came as a member of Team Panama, which is where he's from. But when Panama failed to qualify for the 2017 tournament, China gave Chen a call to see if he wanted to be its ace. Because Chen's grandparents are Chinese, he qualified to be on the team and decided to do it, despite the fact that he's never been to China in his life.
"Everyone was thrilled" neatly sums it up, I think.
So against Cuba, Chen was China's great Panamanian hope, and he didn't disappoint. The 39-year-old lefty kept Cuba off the board for 2 2/3 innings despite never once throwing a pitch above 84 mph, having nearly half his pitches go for balls and taking the mound wearing what looked like orthopedic shoes. Limited to 49 pitches, Chen's final offering of the night resulted in a double play off the bat of Alexander Ayala, earning him a standing ovation from the dugout.
Unfortunately for China, the rest of the night was less than inspiring. Initially stymied by Chen's slower-than-molasses stuff, Cuba eventually tacked four runs on the board in the fourth, taking advantage of a few Chinese errors and miscues in the field, then added single runs in the sixth and seventh to put the game away. Not that Cuba even needed the six runs, as its four pitchers held China to just one hit on the day: a one-out single in the fifth by centerfielder Shunyi Yang. Aside from that and a pair of walks, China may has well have not been there. But while it was a night to forget for most of the team, at least it gave us one more game with Bruce Chen.