Let Them Play

PC: MLB Properties

PC: MLB Properties

The beauty of baseball is that it’s not over until someone wins fair and square. No matter how long it takes, it’s a game won, often times, with little more than will and stamina in extra innings. That there is no clock is what makes baseball special.

The ‘real’ world, you know, the place you play/watch baseball to forget, revolves around a dial and it is within that world TV and tournaments must exist if we are to have the pleasure of viewing games from afar. That desire finally came to bit us in the backside in the second game of the second round of the WBC when #1 Japan went to 11 with #9 The Netherlands and, for the first time in tournament history, the extra innings rule was invoked.

In the top of the second Shogo Akiyama sacrificed his at bat to bring in Sho Nakata and put Japan ahead 1-0. In the bottom of the inning Jonathan Schoop replied with a solo homer to tie it up.

In the top of the third it was Nakata’s turn. He homered to left bringing Kikuchi and Aoki in with him to score. When Akiyama arrived at the plate he singled, driving in Hayato Sakamoto, and Japan jumped ahead 5-1.

The Netherlands received the message and replied. Andrelton Simmons singled to right to score Oduber then Bogaerts sacrificed to right to bring him home. That moved Profar into position to be driven in by Wladimir Balentien’s homer to left and we were all tied up at five.

Following a scoreless fourth Japan went up by one in the top of the 5th inning with a single to center by Seiji Kobayashi that scored Hayato Sakamoto before The Netherlands could pitch themselves out of the inning. The Netherlands started the bottom of the 5th with no outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd when Bogaerts stepped up to the plate. He went down on a called third strike for the first out of the inning. That brought Wladimir Balentien to the plate. He went down swinging for the second out of the inning and suddenly it looked like Kodai Senga, who came in at the start of the inning giving up a single and a double to his first two batters, had found his rhythm and settled in. Didi Gregorius stepped into the box and grounded out to first to end the inning.

In the 6th Curtis smith hit a double to center and advanced to third but The Netherlands ran out of outs before he could make his way home. Through two Senga seemed well in control of business on the mound for Japan.

Heading into the bottom innings Japan was looking for some insurance and it looked like Shairon Martis might give it to them landing six of his first nine pitches out of the zone and earning himself a personalized visit from coach. Despite recording two outs, before things went array, Martis was replaced by Mike Bolsenbroek who shut Japan down with a swinging strikeout. Japan would not score again in regulation play. On the other side of the 7th, The Netherlands were hoping to play leapfrog with the lead.

In the bottom of the 8th with no outs they put runners on 1st and 2nd with singles by J. Schoop and Didi Gregorius. Smith got called out swinging before Dashenko Ricardo walked to load them up. Japan changed pitchers and the inning ended with The Netherlands, once again, scoreless. In the bottom of the 9th, with the heart of their order at the plate, things looked good for The Netherlands until the first pitch was thrown.

Profar was called out looking and Japan had one away. Bogaerts remained patient at the plate and was awarded 1st for his efforts. That brought Wladamir Balentien to the plate. He singled on a line drive to right and Bogaerts wasted no time getting himself to third. With runners on the corners Sir Didi, who was 1-3 hitting .333 going into the 9th, stepped into the box. On a 2-2 count he lines out to left and now there were two down. Jonathan Schoop stepped in to try and bring his boys home. First pitch was a swing and a miss for strike one. Second pitch, second swing and, on a grounder to center, Bogaerts crossed the plate and we were all tied up at six. Curt Smith took his position in the box with runners at the corners. Schoop advanced to 2nd on his second pitch. A strike and a ball followed and then the count was 2-2. He waited on the next pitch and the count was full. Runners on 2nd and 3rd and two out tied at six. He fouled off the next pitch to stay in the inning but struck out swinging to end it on the next pitch.

Heading into extra innings these two teams were neck-and-neck tied at six with 12 hits apiece. The Netherlands started off the tenth with the tallest man in baseball on the hill. Loek Van Mil pitched to just three batters before being pulled. After recording the first out of the inning with a grounder to second, he gave up a single and a double consecutively. Leaving runners on 2nd and 3rd that were his responsibility, he handed the ball over to Tom Stuifbergen who intentionally walked Japan’s #2 batter, Ryosuke Kikuchi, to load them up. The next batter grounded into the double play and The Netherlands escaped the inning unscathed.

Starting out the bottom of the 10th on offense for The Netherlands Dashenko Ricardo grabbed a bat. He struck out swinging and there was one away. Oduber grounded to second for the second out. Simmons stepped in and followed Obuder, step-by-step, recording the final out of the 10th. Scoreless in the 10th, the game headed into the 11th with runners being placed on 1st and 2nd for Japan in accordance with the tournament rules for expedite play.

In every inning following the 10th, each team begins their at bat with their last two batters from the previous inning positioned on 1st and 2nd to increase the likelihood of scoring. And score they did. Seiya Suzuki was the first batter. He took the sacrifice and bunted in Ryosuke Kikuchi for the first out. Sho Nakata then singled to left scoring Kikuchi. Hayato Sakamot then singled to left putting runners on 1st and 2nd with one out for Tetsuto Yamada. He grounded into a double play at third to end their rally with a 2-run lead heading into the bottom of the inning.

Up last in the 10th for The Netherlands were Oduber and Simmons so they were placed on the bags and Profar stepped up to the plate with Bogaerts on deck and Japan up by two. Profar popped up to first, triggering the infield fly rule and The Netherlands rack up an out with nothing to show for it. Bogaerts grounded into a force out at third and there were two down. Sams popped up to the catcher and the game was over. Japan won 8-6 in 11.

As rules go, let’s just say this is one baseball can do without. It looked good on paper. It provides a fair resolution to both sides and a well-thought-out plan to appease fan and father time alike. What it fails to take into account is what is at the heart of the game – the strategy - and, in losing that, this fan is left feeling cheated, no matter the outcome. After all, who really prefers a forced sacrifice or a desperate reach for the fences to well executed small ball and unexpected long balls?

Beginning at 21:30 CET tonight, Italy (#11) takes on Puerto Rico (#12). They need a victory to advance to the next round after loosing to Venezuela (#7) on Saturday night.This game ends Europe’s participation in the Classic for the day with a record of 0-1 in the first round play in Mexico on Italy’s loss to Venezuela, and a record of 1-1 in the second round in Tokyo thanks to Israel’s victory over Cuba.

Next up it’s the Round 2 rematch between the Netherlands and Israel in Tokyo. Game time is at 12:00 CET on Monday, March 13th.

We’ll have all the highlights loaded to YouTube in time for your morning coffee with recaps live in-app for a read on your commute to the office.

#WBC2017 #Netherlands