Netherlands Routs Cuba, Stands On Brink Of World Baseball Classic Semifinals

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TOKYOWladimir Balentien slammed a pair of homers and drove in five runs, and starter Diegomar Markwell pitched six strong innings for Team Netherlands as it routed Team Cuba 14-1 in Pool E play in the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday afternoon.

The game was called after the seventh inning by the so-called mercy rule, and the victory put the Netherlands on the brink of advancement to the WBC semifinals in Los Angeles, pending the outcome of Wednesday night’s game between Japan and Israel.

At 2-1 for the second round, the Netherlands would go to the U.S. along with Japan team, if Japan beats Israel. A Japan loss would necessitate a playoff game on Thursday in Tokyo.

Manager Hensley Meulens’ club, rested after an off-day on Tuesday, came out smoking against a tired-looking Cuban team which came off a loss to Japan on Tuesday night. Balentien belted a three-home homer in the first inning after a walk to Xander Bogaerts and a single by Jurickson Profar.

“Before the game, I told my players not to take anything for granted,” Meulens said. “We got great pitching today from Markwell and hot hitting from Coco (Balentien) who told us he would hit home runs in his first two at bats.”

Balentien led off the top of the third with another home run, and first baseman Yurendell Decaster added a two-run shot later in the inning. The Dutch scored in every inning through the fifth and, by the end of that inning, the score was 13-1.

Balentien said later that he was only joking about the homers but was happy his prediction came true. “I went up as if every plate appearance would be my last,” he said. “Every time we score first, it takes pressure off our pitcher,” he said.

The only run Cuba could muster against Markwell came on a pair of doubles by first baseman Willian Saavedra and right fielder Victor Mesa in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Cuba manager Carlos Marti changed his lineup, trying to put some punch into his offense. Slumping Frederich Cepeda was benched in favor of Guillermo Aviles, but it did not work out.

“I have nothing to say about changing my lineup,” Marti said. “The Netherlands team crushed us early, so it was very difficult to come back from that. They have a lot of talent and keep getting better every time I see them.”

Markwell gave up only four hits in six innings, throwing 68 pitches and getting the victory. Cuba starter Lazaro Blanco was lifted after pitching just 1.1 innings, giving up four runs on five hits.

Meulens said his team would return to its hotel and watch the Japan-Israel game, hoping for the Japanese victory that would keep the Netherlands in the tournament.

“We’re going to relax, have some food and drinks and watch the game together. The players can bring their families, and we will hope for a celebration tonight,” he said.

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