Kalian Sams hit a walk-off sacrifice fly to give the Kingdom of the Netherlands a 7-6 victory over Cuba in the World Baseball Classic. With the victory, the Netherlands guarantees themselves a trip to the final four in San Francisco and eliminates Cuba from the tournament.
The game was a rematch of the first game of the second round, when the Netherlands beat Cuba 6-2 three days earlier. There was some bad blood between the two teams when Cuban manager Victor Mesa said the Netherlands was "not a very good team, to be honest" after that loss. But if the Dutch team was going to repeat that victory, they were going to need to do it without three of their best players. Roger Bernadina did not start after being hit in the wrist with a pitch against Japan. Right fielder Wladimir Balentien was forced to leave the game in the third inning with a groin injury and Yurendell de Caster, who had moved from third base to right field when Balentien exited, collapsed with an apparent leg injury after hitting into a double play in the fifth. De Caster had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.
Despite these handicaps, the Netherlands kept close to Team Cuba all game. The Netherlands had burned all their best pitchers in their previous two games, so they turned to Orlando Yntema to start this elimination game. Despite never getting above the Sally League in the Giants system a few years ago, Yntema kept the mighty Cubans scorless for the first three inning, allowing only two baserunners.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands scored twice in the bottom of the third off of Cuban starter Vladimir Garcia to take a 2-0 lead. Randolph Oduber doubled to lead off the inning and an Andrelton Simmons infield single put runners on first and second with no outs. After a sacrifice bunt, an Andruw Jones sacrifice fly scored Oduber and a single by Curt Smith scored Simmons.
Yntema came out for the fourth inning and got into trouble immediately. Third baseman Yulieski Gurriel doubled to lead off the inning and second baseman Jose Fernandez singled him home to cut the Dutch lead in half. After Yntema induced Frederich Cepeda to hit into a double-play, Cuban slugger Jose Abreu smashed a tremendous home run to dead center field to tie up the score.
Poor fielding by the Cubans in the bottom of the fourth inning gave the two run lead right back to the Netherlands. Speedy outfielder Kalian Sams went from second to third when he beat the throw from the shortstop on an Oduber ground ball. A sacrifice fly by Simmons then gave the Netherlands the lead again. Oduber would steal second base and then scored after stealing third, when miscommunication between the catcher and third baseman resulted in the throw going into left field.
Gurriel would tie the game back up in the top of the fifth inning with a two-run double off of former Nationals hurler Shairon Martis. The score stayed that way until the eighth when Cuba took their first lead of the game on an RBI single Yasmany Tomas and a sacrifice fly by Eriel Sanchez, both runs being charged to Martis.
But a dramatic two-out, two run home run by Andrelton Simmons in the bottom of the eighth tied the game back up. The game went to the ninth inning tied at 6-6, with a trip to the final four in San Francisco hanging in the balance.
The Netherlands handed the ball to Angels Triple-A pitcher Loek Van Mil in the top of the ninth. Gurriel singled with one out and stole second, but was unable to score when the next hitter, Jose Fernandez, singled to left. But with runners on the corner and only one out, Van Mil struck out Cepeda and got the feared Abreu to hit a deep fly out to center field.
In the ninth inning, Andruw Jones reached with one out when Gurriel misplayed a ground ball. After consecutive singles by Curt Smith and Xander Bogaerts loaded the bases, Kalian Sams hit a fly ball to center field that was easily deep enough for Jones to score from third base.
Van Mil got the win for the Netherlands, pitching one scoreless inning. He gave up two hits and struck out two. Yander Guevara took the loss. He faced two batters and was charged with an unearned run. He allowed one hit.
Simmons was 2 for 4 for the Dutch with that huge home run. Curt Smith was 3 for 4 and Andruw Jones went 2 for 4 with a sacrifice fly.
Gurriel was 3 for 5 with two doubles, but an error and another defensive miscue that led to an error by the catcher led to two critical Dutch runs. He also did not score from second on that single to left in the ninth, although it did seem he had to hold up to see if the ball was going to be caught. (His manager didn't appear to think so.) Abreu was 2 for 5 with a home run and Fernandez was also 2 for 5.
With the win, the Netherlands advances to the WBC final four for the first time. They play Japan tomorrow morning for the final game in the second round, but the game is just to decide seeding. All Cuban manager Victor Mesa could say was "It's true. We can't beat the Netherlands." He added that "If we can't play good defense, it's always tough to beat a good opponent." It seems like he's changed his mind on the quality of the Netherlands.