The 2017 World Baseball Classic produced another classic battle tonight as Team Puerto Rico beat Team Netherlands 4-3 in 11 innings. With the win, Puerto Rico goes to the WBC finals for the second-straight tournament.
The game got off to a fast start as the Netherlands jumped all over Puerto Rico starter and Brewers minor leaguer Jorge Lopez. Andrelton Simmons started the game with an infield single and then Xander Bogaerts was hit by a pitch, putting two on with no outs.
But here is where catcher Yadier Molina took over the game. He picked Simmons off of second base and then after Jurickson Profar singled, Molina caught Profar unawares as he was celebrating his single as he slowly walked back to first. Molina gunned the ball to first baseman T.J. Rivera and Profar was out.
That was another huge play, because the next Netherlands batter, NPB home run champion Wladimir Balentien, hit a home run to left field.
Because of Molina’s arm, it was only 2-0 Netherlands after half an inning rather than 4-0. From the final score, this obviously had a huge impact. And because it was only 2-0, Carlos Correa was able to tie up the game with this.
In the bottom of the second, Puerto Rico made it 3-2 with a home run by Rivera.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Puerto Rico looked to tag on some runs. After Molina and Javier Baez both singled to lead off the inning, Eddie Rosario bunted. Dutch pitcher and former Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens threw to third base to get Molina. The call looked like a bad one, but they went to replay and did not overturn the call.
So with third base open, Javier Baez did something that Cubs fans have seen many times before, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing.
However, Puerto Rico was unable to get Baez home from third with only one out, and the game stayed 3-2.
The Netherlands got back in the game with a double by Dodgers minor leaguer Shawn Zarraga that went off the wall. But while it looked like the double would surely score two runs, the game was only tied because of Baez and Molina (as well as outfielder Angel Pagan).
The Netherlands got out of a first and second, one out jam in the bottom of the fifth when manager Hensley Meulens called upon former Nationals pitcher Shairon Martis, who retired Carlos Beltran and Molina to end the threat.
It stayed 3-3 until extra innings. Tensions got high and benches cleared after an Edwin Diaz fastball was up and in on Balentien, but no one even came close to a shove, let alone a punch.
Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth inning for the Netherlands and he was dominating, retiring the side on two strikeouts and only nine pitches. But the Dodgers said he could only pitch one inning, so he gave way to 7’1” Loek Van Mil. But after giving up a leadoff single to Francisco Lindor, Van Mil got Carlos Correa to hit into a double play and Enrique Hernandez to fly out to shallow center.
That meant the game went to the 11th inning and the dreaded international extra-innings rule. (And while I hate the rule, I do understand why it is there. With pitch count rules, teams would quickly run out of pitchers without it.)
This means that runners start the inning on first and second. The standard operating procedure here is a bunt and an intentional walk, and that’s what happened in the top of the 11th. Pinch-hitter Stijn van der Meer bunted and Puerto Rico pitcher Edwin Diaz walked the next batter and got Curt Smith to ground into an inning-ending double play and the Netherlands failed to score in the top of the 11th.
Then the same situation played out in the bottom of the 11th. Molina bunted off of Van Mil and Baez was intentionally walked. Eddie Rosario hit a line drive to shallow center field, but it was easily enough for Carlos Correa to score from third base to win the game.
With the win, Puerto Rico advances to the WBC finals for the second-straight tournament. For the second-straight tournament, the Netherlands were eliminated in the semifinals, but this was a much closer game this time around.
Puerto Rico will take on the winner of tomorrow night’s semifinal between the United States and Japan on Wednesday, weather permitting. (And the weather forecast for Tuesday in Los Angeles is iffy and terrible for Wednesday.)