I've got a poll going in today's recap, just to satisfy my own curiosity. Let's say you won a WBC cap and you can have any one you want. Take a look at the caps and tell me which one you want. It can be the team you're cheering for, a cap that represents your heritage, the cap you think looks cool or a combination of the three. (Personally, I have a Kingdom of the Netherlands cap. I even paid for it.)
After our first game today (actually the third one played), this year's World Baseball Classic is looking like the best tournament yet. No one is safe.
Be aware that the games in Japan are second round games and are double-elimination, with the last two teams standing advancing to San Francisco. The Western Hemisphere games are still in the first round with round robin play.
I'll be back later today with a recap of Japan's game against Chinese Taipei, which is probably over by the time you read this. Al will be doing a game thread and recap of Italy vs. Canada. So enjoy. It doesn't look like there are going to be any Cactus League games today.
Netherlands vs. Cuba
Cuba looked like the best team in the tournament in the first round, winning all three games they played in the Fukuoka Pool. But now they are one loss away from going home after they were thumped by the Netherlands, 6-2, in a game that wasn't as close as the score.
The Netherlands looked like they had squandered their chance in the first inning when they loaded the bases with two out against Cuban starter Ismel Jimenez, but Jimenez managed to get Xander Bogaerts to ground out. But they came roaring back when first baseman Curt Smith led off the second inning with a home run to give the Dutch team an early lead. The next batter, left fielder Kalian Sams, doubled and scored with one out on an Andrelton Simmons RBI single.
Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne got Cuba on the board when he led off the bottom of the inning with a line-drive home run to the opposite field.
Netherlands starter Diegomar Markwell wasn't very impressive, but the defense behind him was. In the six innings he pitched, his defense turned five double plays and just missed turning one more. The Dutch are starting three shortstops in the infield and it showed, as several of the double plays were spectacular. In one, Simmons went all the way out to mid-center field to catch a fly ball and then turned and fired a strike to first to double up the runner. Equally impressive was his double-play partner Jonathan Schoop, who did a great job turning the pivot on several double plays.
But as impressive as Schoop's defense was, the three-run home run that he hit in the sixth inning was even more impressive, landing several rows up in left center field.
In the seventh inning, the Netherlands loaded the bases with no one out, but failed to score. It looked like Cuba would make them pay when third baseman Yurieski Gurriel hit a solo home run in the bottom of the inning off of reliever Leon Boyd to cut the Dutch lead to three. Cuba would get two more singles in the seventh to bring the tying run to the plate with two outs, but right fielder Alexi Bell, who had already homered once in the tournament, hit a hard ground ball to third baseman Bogaerts to end the threat.
There was a controversial play in the eighth inning when Curt Smith leaned over the camera pit to catch a foul ball. The ball clearly clanked off his glove and went into the pit, but Smith leaned over the wall and came up with the ball as if he had caught it. The umpires were out of position and ruled Cuban batter Jose Abreu out. Manager Victor Mesa asked for the umpires to look at the replay, but was told that it was only available for home runs.
But Mesa created some controversy of his own. He made six pitching changes in the game and each time he went to the mound, he would rub up the baseball with his batting gloves in violation of MLB (and in this case, WBC) rules. Home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez would admonish him each time and throw the rubbed-up ball out of play. By the end, Mesa was clearly baiting Marquez, perhaps looking to get ejected. Whether he was upset by Marquez or how poorly his team was playing is anyone's guess. But Marquez never ejected him.
Markwell got the win after pitching six innings. Thanks to his defense, he only gave up one run, on a home run, on nine hits and a walk. Loek Van Mil pitched a perfect ninth for the save. The three Dutch pitchers did not strike out any Cuban hitters.
Schoop was the hero for the Netherlands, going 3 for 6 with the home run and four total RBI. Sams was 2 for 4 with two doubles and a walk. Curt Smith went 2 for 5 with a double and a home run while Simmons went 2 for 4 with a walk.
The win puts the Netherlands one win away from San Francisco. They will next take on the winner of the Japan/Chinese Taipei game on Sunday for the right to go to the final four. Cuba will have to beat the loser of that game on Saturday and then win one more game on Monday to advance.
Italy vs. Mexico
In a very entertaining but at times sloppy game, Italy came from behind on a ninth inning double by Anthony Rizzo to upset Mexico, 6-5.
Italy pounced on Mexican starter Rodrigo Lopez for two runs in the first inning off of four hits, including a double to Chris Denorfia and a single by Rizzo. But Mexico immediately took the lead in the bottom of the first inning, scoring three runs on a bases-loaded double by Jorge Cantu off of Italian starter John Marriotti, who used to be in the Orioles system but now plays in the independent Can-Am League. Mexico extended the lead to 4-2 with a run in the second inning on a double by Braves infielder Ramiro Pena.
The score stayed that way until the fourth inning when Twins catcher Drew Butera tied it up with a two-run home run off of Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves. Mexico retook the lead with a solo tally in the fifth inning. Dodgers infielder Luis Cruz doubled home Eduardo Arrredondo.
Aceves kept the Italians off the board in the sixth inning and then Oscar Villareal and Fernando Salas kept Italy scoreless in the seventh and eighth. But Mexico failed to score as well, so they handed the ball to their closer Sergio Romo with a 5-4 lead in the ninth. That's when the craziness started
Romo retired the first batter he faced easily, but then Nick Punto hit a ball to deep left field that Edgar Gonzalez misjudged into a double. Denorfia followed that up with a single to left, but Gonzalez got to the ball quickly and pinch runner Stefano Desimoni had to stop at third. That brought up Rizzo again and he hit an 0-2 slider to deep left field, where the ball hit Edgar Gonzalez's glove and bounced out for a gift double that scored two runs and gave Italy a 6-5 lead. (The play would have scored the tying run no matter what Gonzalez did, but it should have been ruled a sacrifice fly and an error. I've never seen a fly ball hit an outfielder in the glove, when his feet never left the ground, be called anything but an error.)
Italy then brought in their own closer, Jason Grilli, to pitch the ninth. Grilli gave up a lead-off single to Efren Navarro, but after a sacrifice bunt and a pop out, Grilli could get out of the jam by retiring Luis Cruz. Unfortunately for him, he walked Cruz, which brought Adrian Gonzalez to the plate. After falling behind 0-2, Gonzalez worked the count back to 2-2 before Grilli lost control of a slider which hit Gonzalez's foot, loading the bases with two outs. But Grilli got the next batter, Cantu, to ground out to second base to end the game.
Italy now takes on Canada tomorrow at 1 p.m. Central. A win for Italy would not clinch a trip to the second round, but it would put them in a commanding position. Mexico is now in deep trouble and will almost certainly have to beat the United States and Canada in order to advance. Even then, they might need some help.
Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela
It was supposed to be the best game of the day as two Caribbean powers loaded with major-league stars faced off against each other to start the San Juan Pool.
Instead, it was the worst game of the day. Venezuela forgot to show up. The Dominican Republic jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings and never looked back as it cruised to a 9-3 victory over Venezuela.
Venezuelan starter Anibal Sanchez got into trouble early after Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first with a single and then put two on after he made a bad throw on an Erick Aybar bunt. (Sanchez would have fit right in with the Cubs.) Robinson Cano immediately made him pay with a two-run double. Two batters later, Nelson Cruz singled Cano home to make it 3-0.
The umpires called a rain delay one batter later which lasted for fifty minutes, although some of that was apparently because no one could find the baseballs after the rain stopped. The delay meant the Dominican Republic had to pull starter Edinson Volquez, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Since Volquez only threw eleven pitches, he's eligible to come back and pitch in any other game in the first round, if necessary.
Former Mariners pitcher Cesar Jimenez took over for Sanchez after the rain delay, but he gave up lead-off singles to Alejandro De Aza and Reyes. After Aybar failed to sacrifice them ahead, Robinson Cano struck again with his second RBI double in two innings, making the score 4-0. An Edwin Encarnacion sacrifice fly extended the Dominican lead to 5-0.
Former Tigers farmhand Angel Castro took over for Volquez after the rain delay, and he did let Venezuela back into the game by walking two batters in the third inning. He exited for Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera, who gave up a double to Pablo Sandoval, making the score 5-2.
Venezuela got back into the game in the fourth inning when Martin Prado led off the inning with a double and later scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-3. But that ended in the bottom of the fifth when Hanley Ramirez led off the inning with a tremendous home run of Jhoulys Chacin that landed somewhere in the Florida Keys. Chacin was charged with three more runs in the seventh inning after doubles by Cruz and De Aza. (De Aza hit his double off of Ronald Belisario after he relieved Chacin.)
Pedro Strop was awarded the win for the Dominican Republic. Strop faced five batters and retired all of them, striking out two. Anibal Sanchez took the loss after allowing three runs on three hits and a walk over a third of an inning. His one out was a strikeout.
Jose Reyes paced the Dominican Republic, going 4 for 5 and scoring twice. Robinson Cano was 3 for 5 with two doubles and three RBI. He scored once. Nelson Cruz was 2 for 4 with two RBI and Carlos Santana walked all four times he came to the plate.
The Dominican Republic takes on Spain next on Saturday whole Venezuela faces a what is likely to be a must-win game later that day against host Team Puerto Rico.