It was a double Dutch afternoon for the Netherlands in the first game of the World Baseball Classic's Tokyo Round on Friday.
The Dutch turned a WBC record-tying five double plays and got a two-out, three-run blast and four RBIs from Jonathan Schoop to topple Cuba 6-2 in the first game of the double-elimination second round at Tokyo Dome.
Lefty Diegomar Markwell worked six innings, wriggling out of trouble with the help of his fielders as the Dutch kept dropping jaws in the tournament, this time knocking off the Cubans, ranked No. 1 by the International Baseball Federation.
Cuba skipper Victor Mesa was not ready to credit the seventh-ranked Netherlands for a job well done.
"We hit into five double plays. That was big and caused all the trouble for us," Mesa said through an interpreter. "I don't think they're a very good team, to be honest. I think we should have scored four or five more runs.
"They got base hits and they got runs. We got base hits, but we didn't get runs. That's the difference."
The five double plays matched the number South Korea turned against Taiwan in the 2009 WBC.
The Netherlands collected 14 hits and stayed out of double plays to earn a day off and play the winner of Friday's late game between Taiwan and Japan.
"We had a plan to attack these guys and the players executed," said Netherlands skipper Hensley Meulens, who played with the Lotte Marines in 1994 and the Yakult Swallows from 1995 to 1996.
"Diego was great for us for six innings. Jonathan had a big game for us, driving in four runs with a three-run home run and a double. And the guys played great defense."
Cuba's Jose Abreu endured a miserable day, going 0-for-4 with two double plays, four runners stranded and a foulout that replays showed was actually a dropped ball in the photographers' well.
Markwell made it through six innings, holding the Cubans to an earned run on nine hits and a walk on 72 pitches.
"I think I relied very much on my defense," the left-hander said.
Schoop, the 2011 minor league player of the year in the Baltimore Orioles' organization, said he couldn't pinpoint the reason for his success.
"I don't know, maybe I'm just seeing the ball well," Schoop said. "What is going well for me, I don't know. But I feel comfortable at the plate."
After a runner-filled first inning, in which each team left the bases loaded with two outs, Curt Smith opened the scoring in the top of the second frame with a line-drive home run to left for a 1-0 Netherlands lead.
Andrelton Simmons singled to score Kalian Sams, but with a drive to the power alley that was saved by the wall, then turned into an out at third base when Simmons was called out Puerto Rican umpire Carlos Rey.
Two-time Central League homer champ Wladimir Balentien of the Swallows went 2-for-5, and former major league star Andruw Jones, who joined the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles in the offseason, went 2-for-3 for the Netherlands.
Cuba plays the loser of Friday's late game today in a do-or-die situation.
"You never know the strategy until you know who you're going to play," Mesa said in response to a question about the possibility of facing Japan.
"Only Team Japan has won this twice in a row. Anyway, tomorrow will be a must-win game for us."
Ex-Japan hand Meulens revels in Classic run
Hensley Meulens isn't just happy to be here in Japan.
Well, he is, in part because he spent a year as a member of the Lotte Marines and two seasons with the Yakult Swallows.
But the smile on his face was a lot little wider after the Netherlands' 6-2 win Friday over Cuba in the second round of the World Baseball Classic at Tokyo Dome.
The Dutch, managed by Meulens, won Pool B in Taiwan, and are a win away from heading to the championship round in San Francisco, starting on March 17.
"This feels great. I've been in this city many, many times for big games in here against the [Yomiuri] Giants," said Meulens, who helped the Swallows win the Japan Series in 1995.
"Coming back here as part of our country and being the manager now and directing these guys to a big win over a tough opponent in Cuba, that makes us all feel really, really good.
"And for me, personally, it was good to see my friends here in Tokyo and reminisce about the good old days of winning the championship in 1995."