In 2009, the Netherlands was the World Baseball Classic's Cinderella, upsetting the Dominican Republic twice and reaching the second round.
But the Dutch have topped themselves in 2013.
Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons tied the game with a two-run homer in the eighth, and Kalian Sams' sacrifice fly in the ninth inning provided the winning margin as the Netherlands upset Cuba for the second time in Pool 1, winning 7-6 to join Japan in advancing to the World Baseball Classic semifinals in San Francisco. The loss eliminated Cuba, which after finishing second in the '06 WBC was bounced in the second round for the second straight Classic.
In the bigger picture, the Netherlands have won the last three games between the two, in Tokyo in this year's Classic and in the 2011 World Cup final in Panama. The three straight wins is a shock, but this one also came with a Dutch team reeling with injuries to batters in the middle of its order. Roger Bernadina (Nationals) was out with a wrist injury after being hit by a pitch in a 16-4 loss to Japan on Sunday, while right fielder Wladimir Balentien and third baseman Yurendell DeCaster both went down in the game with leg injuries.
Nevertheless, the Netherlands took leads of 2-0 and 4-2, then scored the last three runs of the game to eliminate Cuba, which has not won a tournament sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation since the 2007 Pan American Games.
Angels farmhand Loek Van Mil got the win, pitching out of a jam in a scoreless ninth. Yander Guevara got the loss for Cuba on the mound, but the game's goat was national team stalwart Yulieski Gourriel, who had a ninth inning to forget. Gourriel singled off Van Mil—his third hit of the game—and stole second, then went to third on a line-drive single to left by Jose Fernandez. Cuba manager Victor Mesa clearly wanted Gourriel to have scored on the play, but Gourriel held up, perhaps thinking the line-drive could be caught, perhaps knowing Cuba still had DH Frederich Cepeda and first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu to follow.
But Van Mil struck out Cepeda, who was 31-for-68 (.456) all-time in Classic play to that point, and retired Abreu on a deep fly ball to center field, stranding the runners. Gourriel then booted Andruw Jones' fairly routine grounder for an error with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Curt Smith followed with a single, and Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox), who had replaced DeCaster, loaded the bases with a single to right. Sams, who had some defensive adventures of his own in center field (where he was replacing Bernadina), came through with a deep fly ball to center that scored Jones with the game-winner, setting off an exultant Dutch celebration.
Simmons had the game's other huge hit, a two-run game-tying homer in the eighth off lefthander Norberto Gonzalez, who was on his way to being the hero for Cuba. Gonzalez, 33, had replaced Vladimir Garcia in the fourth inning and struck out five in 4 2/3 innings overall. But Simmons was looking breaking ball, got it and hit a game-tying homer to left.
Smith had three hits to lead the way for the Dutch, who turned two double plays and got a nice contribution from left fielder Randolph Oduber (Nationals), who had a .671 OPS last year at high Class A Potomac but nevertheless got the start in a winner-take-all game. He went 1-for-4, had three stolen bases and scored twice.
It was quite a turn from the last games the two teams had played, as Cuba had beaten Taiwan 14-0 while the Netherlands had lost 16-4 to Japan. But the Dutch regrouped and beat the Cubans for the second time in four days, having won the first Pool 1 game 6-2.
Their reward: a trip to San Francisco for the WBC semifinals. Perhaps waiting for them there: No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar. The Dallas Morning News reports the Rangers could allow the 20-year-old shortstop to join the Netherlands as an injury replacement for the WBC semifinals.