The Netherlands lost Didi Gregorius at short heading into tonight’s matchup due to a shoulder injury. For most teams this might have been a devastating hit but, as we’ve discussed heading into the Classic, The Netherlands had a stacked deck when it came to this particular position. In a pre-game interview with MLB Networks Wladamir Balentien spoke about the offensive loss for the team, “Before the game we had a meeting and decided we were going to play this game for him and try to win it all.” All we can say is we wish Didi well heading into the season and, if that was how he performed at the plate with tenderness in his shoulder, our sympathies to those who face him this year when he’s healthy.
At game time Puerto Rico had home team advantage so The Netherlands stepped into the box first. Simmons started the game with a grounder to 3rd. Xander Bogaerts was then hit-by-a-pitch and, six pitches in, The Netherlands had runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. With Profar at the plate Simmons was caught stealing for the first out of the inning while Bogaerts moved to 2nd. Profar singled to right moving Bogaerts to 3rd but not before Profar went down for the 2nd out of the inning. Wladimir Balentien stepped up to the plate. His fifth pitch he went yard driving in Bogerts and chalking up his first two RBIs of the night. The Netherlands went up 2-0 before Jonathan Schoop grounded out to 2nd to end the top half of the first. During the pre-game with MLB.TV Balentien mentioned that he’d like another shot at the bigs and he saw the Classic as, “an opportunity to open some eyes.” We can safely say with that shot, if not before, some eyes have opened so wide they may need to be popped back into their respective skulls before this whole thing is over.
In the bottom half of the 1st Angel Pagan started with a groundout to Yurendell Decaster at 1st. Francisco Lindor then doubled to center for Puerto Rico’s first hit of the night. 3rd baseman Carlos Correa homered to left-center scoring Lindor along the way and just like that it was all tied up at two with just one away for PR and Carlos Beltran stepping up to the plate. Beltran singled to right to earn his spot on 1st. Yadier Molina then grounded into the double play The Netherlands went 6-4-3 to end the inning. Through one each team went through their first five batters in the lineup, had a homer each on the board, along with three runs apiece and, at the end of one we were right where we started, tied up, this time with two apiece. It would be a reoccurring theme in this particular match-up.
Top of two Zarraga took three balls before the first called strike crossed the plate. He then went 3-2 before making contact on a four-seam fastball that clocked in at 93.5MPH. He flied out to left and The Netherlands had one down. Yurendell grounded out for the quick 6-3 and The Netherlands had two away. Curtis Smith stepped up to the plate looking to get something started. He singled to right to take his base. Sams was unable to make anything happen and the teams switched sides.
Javier Baez led off the bottom of the 2nd for Puerto Rico with a single to left. Eddie Rosario then grounded into the 6-3 double play and just like that there were two away for Van Den Hurk on four pitches. T.J. Rivera stepped in and took the third pitch he saw out of the park, over the left field wall, and Puerto Rico went up 2-3. Fuentes went down on three pitches fouling off the first before being called out looking on the next two pitches. Van Den Hurk got out of it having thrown just ten pitches but, for the board, it was still one too many as Puerto Rico went up 3-2 on the Rivera homerun. After two, we were in a competition of dingers.
With both teams having made it through the full lineup in the first two, Simmons stepped back into the box to start the third. He went down on a called strikeout and the Netherlands had one away. Bogaerts stayed patient at the plate and earned himself a stroll down the path to first. Profar then grounded to the pitcher who threw to first for the 2nd out of the inning while Bogaerts advanced to 2nd. Jorge Lopez then intentionally walked Wladimir Balentien, putting runners on 1st and 2nd. Coach headed to the mound to take the ball and that would do it for Lopez who went 2.2 innings for the night giving up 4 hits and 2 runs with 1 strikeout and 2 walks. Swapping out righty for lefty, Hector Santiago took the mound to square off against Jonathan Schoop who went down swinging on four pitches to end the offensive half of the inning for The Netherlands.
The Netherlands made a pitching change to start the bottom half of the third putting in Jair Jurrjens to replace Van Den Hurk who went 2 complete innings giving up three runs on five hits with one strikeout and two walks. Angel Pagan lined out to center off Jerrjen’s 2nd pitch for the first out. Francisco Lindor then grounded to short for the 6-3 putout and there were two away. Carlos Correa took the first five pitches as strikes; the first two called before he started swinging. He took the 8th pitch to 3rd for a grounder and landed safely on first. He took two wide a stride off the bag, or Jurrjens was mad he was there because the next two pitches he was still throwing in Correa’s direction for a pickoff attempt. Jair finally turned his attention to the batter and Carlos Beltran flied out to left to end the inning on a 1-1 count. After three Puerto Rico lead by one.
Zarraga started off the top of the fourth for The Netherlands with a called strikeout. DeCaster flied out to center and Santiago had two away before walking Curt Smith who, with a single and a walk, had now reached base safely in his first two at bats for the night. Kalian Sams singled toward 2nd baseman Javier Baez moving Smith over and the Netherlands had runners on 1st and 2nd with two away, and the top of their order at the plate. Puerto Rico challenged the tag on the play but the call was upheld. Simmons grounded to Lindor at short who lobbed it to Baez for their second attempt at Sams. This time they wouldn’t miss. Three away for The Netherlands.
On Puerto Rico’s side Molina singled to left then Baez took one out to center for a long single and PR has runners on 1st and 2nd with none away. Eddie Rosario bunted to try for the sacrifice but it was a force out and there was one away. T.J. Rivera stepped up to the plate. On a ball to Rivera, Baez tried to take third and was caught but the umpires decided to take a second look. The call was overturned on review and Baez took the bag, putting runners on the corners with one away and the batter ahead in the count for Puerto Rico. Rivera popped up to 2nd on a 2-2 count for the 2nd out of the inning then Fuentes grounded to the same spot. This time Schoop's threw it to Decaster for the final out and The Netherlands made it out of the bottom of the fourth unscathed.
Bogaerts started the fifth with a 5-3 grounder for the first out. Profar grounded out to first for the second out. After holding them scoreless through three, and making quick work of the first two batters, the fourth had started to look like Puerto Rico had settled in, finding the number for the Netherland’s offensive line. They were confident enough to pitch to Wladamir Balentien once again and he wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity. Continuing to make the Classic look like batting practice he took this one sharp down the left field line for a double. After three plate appearances and just two at bats, he’d now completed half the cycle. Schoop was then intentionally walked to get to Zarraga. Shawn doubled to left off a 92mph fastball from Santiago to score Balentien. Schoop was called out at home on the throw from left fielder Pagan to Baez on the cutoff to Molina. Umpire review of the tag was upheld and the inning ended but not before The Netherlands managed to tie it up. Heading into the bottom half of the 5th it was a new ballgame for the third time this game.
Pagan started off the offensive half for Puerto Rico with a single to right, answering Balentien’s own hit in direct fashion. Francisco Lindor grounded to 2nd and Schoop tossed it to Simmons to take out the lead runner. Pagan headed to the bench and Lindor took first. The umpires reviewed the play for slide interference on the turn but the call on the field was upheld and Lindor remained at 1st with one away. Carlos Correa walked and that would do it for Jurrjens who pitched 2.1 scoreless innings. Shairon Martis was handed the ball to face Carlos Beltran. He struck out his first batter and there were two away with Lindor still stuck on 1st. That’s where he’d stay too, as Molina took a 91.8mph fastball to right where Balentien was waiting for it. After five, they were all tied up 3-3.
Facing the bottom of the Netherlands’ lineup Puerto Rico stuck with Santiago who took out Decaster swinging. Smith stepped into the box 1-1 on the night and fought hard fouling off five of the first seven pitches he saw before being called out on strikes for the second out of the inning. Sams swung at the first pitch, a 93.9mph fastball, and it seemed like Santiago was gassed up and ready to go. Called strike two at 92.7mph on a four-seamer and The Netherlands were down too in the count 0-2. Sams stayed patient at the plate taking the inside fastball for a ball. He sat on the next one too and just like that the count was 2-2. Shown nothing but fastballs, primarily four-seamers, Sams waited on the next pitch to go ahead in the count 3-2 as Santiago worked his way around the corners of the plate. The final ball was at his feet and Sams took the trot to 1st. Continuing with that four-seamer Santiago seemed just about out of control despite having a full tank left to spend. The first pitch to Simmons went inside for ball 1. The next two were straight over the heart of the plate and Simmons made contact with each. Following his pattern around the plate, the next pitch was to the outside corner and Simmons took this 92.4mph four-seamer on the ground to short where Lindor flipped it to Baez for out number three. Despite having a 1,2,3 inning, it looked like The Netherlands had finally seen enough of Santiago to have his number. After 3.1 innings, you were left to wonder if The Netherlands would be facing off against a new pitcher in the 7th.
At the plate for Puerto Rico in the bottom of the 6th 2nd baseman Javier Baez grounded out to 3rd for the 5-3 between Bogaerts and Decaster. After watching the first one go by, Eddie Rosario locked in with Martis for a foul-off between balls. He took the count full on seven pitches before flying out to left for the second out. Rivera stepped into the box and continued to increase Martis’ pitch count fouling four of five before making pure contact with his 93.6mph four-seamer. It wouldn’t go far. On the grounder to short, Simmons got it to Decaster in time for the 6-3 to ring up the final out of the inning. Through six, they remained tied up at three.
Puerto Rico started the 7th with a fresh arm. Joe Jimenez would replace Santiago trading lefty for righty. Bogaerts didn’t seem to mind. He singled to left on a 3-2 count. That would be the only batter Jimenez faced. LHP Alex Claudio was handed the ball and Jurickson Profar grounded into the double play at first. In a quick 3-5 The Netherlands had two away and no one on. Puerto Rico pitched to Balentien who singled to right this go around leaving him one shy of the full cycle with the possibility of coming to the plate in the 9th. Jonathan Schoop grounded out to third for the 5-3 to end The Netherlands’ offensive ups in the 7th.
The Netherland’s followed Puerto Rico’s lead starting the defensive round with a pitching change. RHP Tom Stuifbergen replaced Shairon Martis who went 1.2 scoreless innings for the Dutch with only a strikeout on his line for the night. Stuifbergen started strong with a strikeout against Fuentes. He then got Pagan to ground out to third for the 5-3 turn and nine pitches in he had two away. Lindor took his first pitch to Simmons for a single. That would be it for Puerto Rico offensively in the 7th however and, after seven, the score was unchanged.
Claudio started the 8th inning facing the bottom of The Netherlands’ order. Catcher Zarraga grounded to short for the 6-3 putout and it was one away for Puerto Rico. Decaster singled to right and six pitches in, the coach took a walk to the mound to ask for the ball. Joseph Cólon would face off against Curtis Smith. Smith grounded into the 4-3 double play leaving The Netherlands just three more outs to make something happen.
Bottom of the 8th Stuifbergen faced the heart of Puerto Rico’s order. Carlos Beltrán singled to right on the third pitch. After safely reaching first, Beltrán was replaced by pinch runner Enrique Hernandez. That brought Molina to the plate. Molina popped up a bunt attempt to the catcher and Zarraga recorded the out in foul territory. With one away, it was Baez’s turn at the plate but he went down swinging. That brought up Rosario. Puerto Rico couldn’t make anything happen and it headed into the top of the 9th still tied at 3-3.
Enrique Hernandez remained in the game as the DH for Puerto Rico and Joseph Cólon was on the mound to face the top of The Netherlands’ order. Kalian Sams finished off the lineup cycle grounding out before Andrelton Simmons, sitting in at short for the hurt Gregorius, took a sharp one to center for a single. The Netherlands couldn’t turn it into anything useful however. Leaving Simmons stranded they prepared for extra innings from the defensive side by calling Kenley Jansen into the game.
Jansen struck out the first two batters without throwing a ball. Angel Pagan managed to make contact grounding into the 4-3 to put the game in extra innings and Jansen was headed for the dugout barely warmed up, having thrown only 10 pitches to end the inning.
To start the 10th Puerto Rico moved Pagan from left to center and Aviles, who came in during the bottom of the 9th, remained in the game at left. They also switched out pitchers putting the ball in Edwin Diaz’s hand for the top of the inning. Diaz started firing missiles at the plate striking out Profar on a 3-2 96mph fastball. Balentien then stepped into the box. Extra innings afforded him a shot at the cycle and Diaz was putting up the pitches with a 98.1mph cutter followed by a 99.8mph four-seamer. Balentien fouled off the first two before Diaz threw in high at 98.1mph to back him off the plate before taking him down swinging. Schoop then stepped up to the plate for his first look at the pitcher who, admittedly, likes to throw inside fast on players. Ball one was the only pitch Schoop would see clearly before striking out swinging in three attempts.
Heading into the bottom of the 10th The Netherlands decided to replace Jansen with the Dutch giant, Loek Van Mil. Lindor singled off a grounder to Balentien to start things off. Correa grounded into the 6-4-3 double play and just like that it was two up and two down for Puerto Rico. Hernandez took a fastball out to center but Profar was there to make the catch and the teams closed out their fifth straight scoreless inning. To the top of the 11th they would go.
Following the new extra innings rule in the WBC this year, to start off the 11th, Schoop was placed on 1st and Balentien on 2nd for The Netherlands. They made a substitution for Zarraga at the plate putting Stijn van der Meer in his spot. van der Meer did his part, laying down the bunt and advancing Balentien into scoring position, but Schoop was out on the play. With one away, and runners on the corners, Edwin Diaz was intentionally walked to load them up for Curtis Smith. Smith grounded out to Baez for the double play and it was headed to the bottom of the inning.
On the bases for Puerto Rico to start the inning were Correa (on 2nd) and Beltran (1st) with Molina at the plate. Defensively Dashenko Ricardo took van der Meer’s spot in the lineup and took over as catcher. Molina laid down the bunt. Bogaerts picks it up at third, turned it to Schoop at second and Enrique Hernandez was out on 2nd while Correa took 3rd. 2nd baseman Baez was the intentionally walked to load them up for Eddie Rosario. He took the first ball into action and that was all it would take. On a sacrifice to center Correa had time to come around for the win with 3-4.
Puerto Rico remains undefeated and sends yet another team packing. We’re marking this one a loss for the WBC. Taking the game out of the players' hands just isn’t the answer. We know, ‘Then you come up with a better solution.’ Well, we’ve got four years to think about it now so we’ll get back to you once the sting wears off.
Though this marks the end of The Netherlands, and Europe, in the 2017 Classic, it was more than we could have hoped for heading into action just two weeks ago. Two of the three European teams made it through the first round and one went all the way to the semi’s. With Israel’s Cinderella story and The Netherlands’ continuous extra innings extravaganzas, not to mention their homerun sideshow featuring Balentien, the EU showed up ready to compete. Italy represented well in the Classic as well, managing a nail-biting tie-breaker game of their own.
Like everyone else in the world of baseball, we’ll lick our wounds and tune in tonight as the USA tries to take a spot away from Japan in Wednesday’s final game. For now we can rest easy and wish all the remaining teams nothing but joyful, injury-free play in the days to come. We’ll be watching.