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Sac-flying Dutchmen: Knock off Cuba for 2nd time with sayonara fly after rallying in 8th, advance t

by John E. Gibson (Mar 13, 2013)

Underdog teams have been barking loud and proud at the powerhouse bullies throughout this edition of the World Baseball Classic.

The Dutch have taken the biggest bite.

Kalian Sams plated Andruw Jones of the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Netherlands knocked off Cuba 7-6 and set off a wild Dutch celebration on Monday night at Tokyo Dome.

Thanks to an eighth-inning homer that tied the score and the ninth-inning rally, the Dutch are going to the semifinals in San Francisco.

"I told you guys before the game, the better team will win. So the better team won," a defiant and happy Dutch skipper Hensley Meulens said.

"They played a good game, but we played a better game."

Meulens called it the country's shining moment on the diamond.

"I can look back to two historic days before this one in Dutch history and one of them was beating the Cubans at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, and the other one was becoming world champions for the first time in history of Dutch baseball [at the Baseball World Cup] in 2011 against Cuba, in Panama.

"This is No. 1--the best game the Dutch have ever had, coming from behind, tying the game up and taking the game in the bottom of the ninth. This game will go down as the biggest game in Dutch history, so far. There's more to come."

The Dutch, ranked seventh by the International Baseball Federation, lost two starters to injury during the game. Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Vladimir Balentien (groin) left after singling in the bottom of the first inning, and veteran infielder Yurendell de Caster (heel) went down in the fifth.

Those two joined Washington Nationals starting outfielder Roger Bernadina, who was out of the lineup because of a bad wrist, on the bench.

Still, the Dutch knocked off top-ranked Cuba for the second time in the second round and the fifth straight time in international competition. They had also taken down South Korea in Pool B in the first round.

"In this kind of short tournament, it's never the best team that wins," Balentien said. "It's the one that plays the better game that day.

"They made it difficult for us--we had to face Korea, Taiwan, we had to face Cuba and we had to face Japan. But we always believed in ourselves. "

The Cubans, who had 12 hits and scored enough to win, committed two errors and weren't sharp on the base paths, either. They fell behind by two runs twice before taking a two-run lead in the top of the eighth inning.

A two-out, two-run blast by Andrelton Simmons, though, got the Netherlands even in the eighth, and Jones reached on a one-out error to spark the ninth-inning rally.

"It's hard to win the way we played tonight," Cuba skipper Victor said. "If you don't play good defense, you don't win games like this. We tried hard and we played hard, but we made a couple of mistakes.

"If we hadn't made mistakes, we'd sleep well. It's no one's fault, though. We played hard."

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Underdogs making noise

The Netherlands is among a number of countries that have sparkled on WBC diamonds.

Italy surprised experts by advancing into the second round out of Pool D; Taiwan won Pool B; and China notched its first-ever WBC win when it rallied late to stun another Cinderella story in Brazil in Pool A.

"First of all, it's a good thing. Baseball can give us a lot of emotion and baseball can give us a dream," Mesa said in a pregame press conference on Monday.

"New countries growing the sport of baseball is really good news. And more than that, we welcome baseball growing in new countries.

"Soccer is played all over the world. In the future, I hope baseball will be played all over the world."

Meulens said success by professionals the past 20 years has spawned popularity of youth baseball in the Netherlands and other countries.

"First and foremost, we teach the coaches how to teach the kids how to play the game the right way," he said. "It's a slow process, but you see all these countries that play baseball as well, they're doing the same thing.

"Over the past 15 to 20 years, we've got more players being signed as professionals, and the level has grown because of guys getting to the big leagues. Kids have a hero from their own country they can look up to."


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