Thursday, March 10, 2011

March 10, 2009: The Netherlands?

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The ball deflected off the first baseman's glove and trickled into right field. The first base coach started jumping up and down, almost in disbelief. The winning run scored and the players in white scampered out of the dugout. Meanwhile, the team in red stood and stared in shock, unable to believe that they had lost to these guys again.

The matchup between the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands in the 2009 World Baseball Classic was supposed to be a huge mismatch. The Dominicans played for what was often called the Republic of Baseball, and with a roster made up almost entirely of Major League players, they were among the favorites to win the whole tournament. Meanwhile, the Netherlands featured players who had to take vacation time from work in order to play in the WBC. The best players on the team were the ones that were recruited from the Netherlands' Caribbean territories, but only one player on the roster had Major League experience.

And yet, the Netherlands had shocked the Dominicans in the tournament's first game, scoring three unearned runs in the first before hanging on for a 3-2 victory. Four days later, the two met again in an elimination game that the Dominicans were expected to win easily.

In the rematch, the Dominicans' strong pitchers stole the show, with starter Ubaldo Jiminez striking out 10 in his four innings of work and the rest of the staff holding the Netherlands to just two hits in nine innings. But the unsung and unknown pitchers for the Netherlands were holding their own, too, shockingly holding the Dominicans scoreless through nine innings.

The tenth was scoreless, as well, before the Dominicans finally broke through in the 11th. With two outs, Netherlands outfielder Eugene Kingsale misplayed a line drive, turning the third out into a triple that gave the Dominicans a 1-0 lead. From there, the Dominicans only had to get three more outs. No problem, right?

Not quite. Pinch-hitter Sidney De Jong opened the 11th with a double, becoming only the second Netherlands player to reach second base all game. Next up was Kingsdale, given a shot at redemption, and he took advantage, singling to right to tie the score. From there, the Dominicans unraveled. An error on a pickoff attempt sent Kingsdale to third. Then Yurendell DeCaster hit a liner to first the bounced off Willy Aybar's glove and into right field, giving the Netherlands a shocking victory.

The Dominicans were stunned. Several players admitted that they were glad they didn't have to go back home any time soon and face their families. Meanwhile, the Netherlands advanced to the next round. Because of their advancement, at least one player had to call into work to request additional time off. Needless to say, it was granted. Giant killers tend to get advantages like that.

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