Netherlands stun Cuba in World Baseball Classic
TOKYO (AFP) –
The Netherlands stunned Cuba 6-2 in the World Baseball Classic’s second round on Friday to move one win from reaching the tournament’s final stage for the first time.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop earned four runs to put the Dutch through to a game between either Japan, the two-time defending champions, or Taiwan, and leave Cuba’s hopes hanging by a thread.
The win at Tokyo Dome, against one of the tournament favourites and 2006 finalists, was the second big upset recorded by the Netherlands after they shocked South Korea, runners-up in 2009, in the first round.
The Netherlands have never reached the final stage before, while Cuba have to go through repechage play-offs if they want to make it to the championship series starting in San Francisco on March 17.
“It’s a great moment for our country. We have the momentum on our side right now. The guys are playing great. They’re scoring first to keep the pressure off the pitching, they play great defence,” said Dutch head coach Hensley Meulens.
“We have to play the better team anyway,” he said. “The best team is going to win this game. We have to play good to beat them.”
Schoop said: “Maybe I just see the ball well, and try to put the ball in play. I feel comfortable everyday.”
After missing a big chance at two downs and full bases in the first inning, the Netherlands took a 1-0 lead at the beginning of the second when Curt Smith fired a solo home run off Cuban starter Ismel Jimenez.
Andrelton Simmons then hit a single to get Kalian Sams back home, after the left outfielder had hit a double and advanced to the third base on a sacrifice bunt.
Cuba pulled one back with Alfredo Despaigne’s solo home run in the bottom of the second inning, but Schoop stretched the lead to 5-1 by unleashing a three-run homer in the sixth inning.
Yulieski Gourriel pulled another run back for Cuba by hitting a solo homer to trail 2-5 in the seventh inning, but Schoop regained the four-run lead with a double to the left.
Tension flared up in the bottom of the eighth when first baseman Smith caught Jose Abreu’s foul ball falling down into the photographers’ area. A video replay showed he picked up the ball after failing to catch it.
Cuban head coach Victor Mesa’s protest was turned down, and with that, their hopes of a comeback faded.
Japan will play Taiwan later on Friday. Two teams from the Asian second round will advance to San Francisco, joining another two sides from the pools being played in Puerto Rico and Arizona.