When you think about the great upsets in the history of sports, like the U.S. hockey team beating the Soviets in Lake Placid, Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson or Rulon Gardner outlasting Alexander Karelin, they’re notable because an impossible underdog rose up to beat the vastly superior opponent.
But what the Netherlands baseball team just did in the World Baseball Classic is arguably just as impressive. The Dutch pulled off the impossible upset when they beat the Dominican Republic 3-2 on Sunday. Then on Tuesday night in a rematch against the Dominican Republic, they did it again, rallying to beat the Dominicans 2-1 in 11 innings. With the win, the Netherlands advances to the second round while the Dominican Republic–a semifinalist in 2006–is eliminated.
To understand the enormity of this upset, just look at the rosters. The Dominican Republic fielded a lineup that included Mets star Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada, Jose Guillen, Pedro Martinez and Robinson Cano. The most prominent members of the Netherlands lineup were Randall Simon, who last saw significant big league action in 2004, and Eugene Kinsale, who last played in the big leagues in 2003.
The Dominican Republic pitching staff included big league stars and regulars like Martinez, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Ubaldo Jimenez and Carlos Marmol. The Netherlands pieced together pitching staff has only one big leaguer (Rick Vanden Hurk), one ex-big leaguer (Sidney Ponson), four minor leaguers and seven members of the Dutch Major League.
Somehow that pitching staff manged to hold the Dominican Republic lineup to three runs in 21 innings. Dutch starter Tom Stuifbergen, a 20-year-old righthander who threw 12 innings for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins in 2008, managed to hold the Dominicans scoreless through four hair-raising innings. He gave up five hits and walked two, but managed to work out of multiple jams. On the other siide, Jimenez was mowing down overmatched Dutch batters. He set a World Baseball Classic record with 10 strikeouts among the 13 batters he faced.
Martinez was nearly as good in relief of Jimenez. A free agent this spring, Martinez allowed only one hit batter in three scoreless innings, but somehow Reds minor leaguer Alexander Smit and Dutch League veteran Rod Cordemans were able to equal him to keep the game scoreless. Diamondbacks righthander Tony Pena and Indians lefthander Rafael Perez threw up two more scoreless innings for the Dominicans, but 19-year-old Red Sox farmhand Dennis Neuman threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings of his own, even though he’s yet to pitch in full-season ball in the U.S.
Diegomar Markwell, a Dutch League stalwart since 2004 and ex-Blue Jays farmhand, got the Dutch into the 11th, when it seemed like finally their luck had run out as Jose Reyes walked with two out, then scored from first on a fielding error by Kingsale. Considering that the Dominican pitching staff had not allowed an earned run in the World Baseball Classic, and the Dutch had managed just six hits in 20 innings against the Dominicans, a comeback seemed nearly impossible.
But Cubs righthander Carlos Marmol never seemed to get comfortable as he tried to finish off the Dutch. Sidney de Jong doubled to start the inning, and after a ground out advanced him to third, Kingsale made up for his error with an RBI single. He then advanced to third on Marmol’s errant pickoff throw and then scored the winning run when Yurendel DeCaster’s grounder to first was mishandled by Wily Aybar.
The entire Dutch team ran onto the field to celebrate the biggest win in the nation’s baseball history, while the Dominicans sat stunned in their dugout, not believing what they had just witnessed. They had been upset for the second time in a week by a team of players they had never heard of, one that now gets to face Puerto Rico on Wednesday for first place in Pool D.