The Netherlands clinched a spot in the World Cup gold-medal game—the first European country to do so in a tournament format—with two victories Thursday, including a 4-1 victory against previously undefeated Cuba.
The last European country to play for gold was during what is now considered the first World Cup, in 1938. That was a best-of-seven series between the United States and the United Kingdom (won by host U.K.). Also, it was before World War II, so this Netherlands club has done something unprecedented with a meaningless game against Venezuela remaining tonight to end the second round. The Dutch team has ridden tremendous pitching to lose only once in nine games, posting a 1.57 ERA overall. It's allowed five runs twice—once in a 7-5 win against the U.S., once in its lone loss, 5-4 to Canada.
The U.S. remained in medal contention with a 2-1 victory against Australia and plays a doubleheader today and must sweep to reach the medal round, but it appears to be eliminated from a spot in the gold-medal game.
But Thursday belonged to the Dutch. First, the Netherlands completed a 2-1 victory against Australia that had been suspended by rain from Wednesday with the score 1-1. Sharlon Schoop (Giants) provided the game-winning RBI with an infield grounder that scored Curt Smith. Then former Giants farmhand Orlando Yntema—whose father was Dutch and whose mother is from the Dominican Republic (he was born in the Dominican)—tossed five four-hit, one-run innings in a game shortened to seven due to the compressed schedule of the tournament, which has been twice interrupted by rain.
Yntema was pitching on one day's rest after tossing a scoreless inning in relief of Tom Stuifbergen (Twins) after Stuifbergen's eight shutout innings against South Korea on Tuesday. Leon Boyd finished with two scoreless innings as the powerful Cuban offense, hitting .334 overall, was held to five hits. The Dutch hit a pair of two-run homers off Cuba's Miguel Gonzalez to account for all their offense. Bryan Engelhardt hit a two-run shot in the second, and Kalian Sams hit his own shot in the fifth.
While the Dutch are hitting just .239 as a team, their 60 runs ranks third in the tournament, thanks in part to 11 home runs (tied with Cuba for the most) and a tournament-high 11 stolen bases, and only Canada (with 50) has drawn more walks (39).
Team USA improved to 2-3 in the second round and kept its medal-round hopes alive, moving into a tie for fourth with host Panama. The Americans play two games Friday, first against South Korea, then facing Venezuela. A sweep would position the U.S., the two-time defending Cup champion, for the bronze-medal game.
Panama has to play a doubleheader on Friday as well, facing Australia and Cuba. At 4-1, Cuba has two games scheduled against Panama and 4-2 Canada, so it seems impossible for the U.S. to reach the gold-medal game even with a best-case 4-3 record.
Drew Smyly (Tigers) threw five scoreless innings for the United States, which staged a two-run rally in the sixth inning and escaped with a line-drive double play in the seventh to escape with the victory. A.J. Pollock (Diamondbacks) and Joey Thurston (Marlins) had hits in the scoring frame for the Americans, who also benefited from an Aussie errant pickoff throw by former Giants farmhand Clayton Tanner, a lefthander whom the Reds picked up off waivers late in the season. Tanner, who has spent most of the last two years in Double-A, went the full six innings and struck out four.
Thomas Brice, a former White Sox minor leaguer, doubled and scored on a single by Allan de San Miguel (Twins) as Australia rallied in the seventh. But reliever Scott Patterson got former indy baller Scott Wearne to line into a double play, making the catch himself and then doubling up a pinch-runner at first to end the game.
Smyly, the best prospect among the pitchers on the U.S. roster, has functioned as the team's fourth starter and has tossed 11 scoreless innings without giving up a walk against Greece and Australia. He has 13 strikeouts and has given up just six hits.
Canada posted a pair of shutouts Thursday against Venezuela (7-0) and South Korea (4-0). Andrew Albers (Twins) continued his fine tournament with five scoreless frames against the Koreans, extending his World Cup scoreless streak to 15 innings, while Dustin Molleken (Rockies) got a two-inning save and has eight scoreless innings himself overall. Kyle Lotzkar (Reds) threw five innings with three strikeouts in the shutout of Venezuela while ex-big leaguer Mike Johnson threw the other two in the combined three-hitter.
"We came out today and did what we needed to do," Canadian manager Ernie Whitt said. "Losing to Australia (on Tuesday) gave us a wake-up call and I'm thrilled with the way the team has responded."
The loss to the U.S. eliminated the Aussies from medal contention and halted their four-game win streak.