The Netherlands tied a World Baseball Classic record with five double plays and coupled it with a slugging offence to shock top-ranked Cuba in a 6-2 victory. The Orange ripped six extra base-hits and eight singles and kept Cuba off balance for the entire game to move one out away from the WBC semifinals.
Diegomar Markwell did just enough to keep Cuba from mounting a rally, working low in the zones and inducing grounder after grounder. In his six innings, 13 of 18 outs were recorded on a groundball and the Netherlands tied the double play record by the sixth inning. The orange-and-black had a twin killing in each of the first four frames, an unofficial record.
Both clubs were on the basepaths for the entire game. The Netherlands started the contest by loading the bases against Ismel Jiménez, Cuba’s ace, but could not push a run across. The red-and-blue had a similar fate against Markwell in the bottom of the frame, but the southpaw worked around a José Fernández double to keep the game scoreless.
Both teams would get on the board in the second. Curt Smith led off the inning with a home run to left centre to give the Dutch a lead, and Kalian Sams followed with a double. Andrelton Simmons, who excelled in the field all afternoon, drove him home with a single. A one-base hit by Schoop would end Jiménez day early, though Simmons was thrown out at third by Guillermo Heredia, the centerfielder.
Alfredo Despaigne cancelled out Smith’s dinger with one of his own, crushing the first pitch he saw from Markwell into the right centerfield seats. Markwell would get out of the inning on a double play.
Both teams failed to score for the next three innings. Markwell, who had been up in the zone during the first two frames started working his breaking ball downward to much success, though he allowed at least one hit in every inning. The barrage of bouncers kept Cuba from finding a rhythm, but Cuba’s reliever Freddy Álvarez also settled the Orange down during the middle innings.
Álvarez ran out of steam in the sixth after throwing four full innings. Sams, who was hitless in the first round, had his second two-bagger of the game with one out, though Álvarez would follow him with out number two. The right-hander’s night was over after walking Simmons, and Yadier Pedroso entered.
Schoop, who had a dynamic home run in Fukuoka only days earlier, drove Pedroso’s second pitch over the left centre field wall for a three-run blast and a shocking 5-1 lead for the Netherlands.
Markwell finished his night in the bottom of the frame and prevented the red-and-blue from rallying back from Schoop’s four-bagger.
The Orange looked ready to break the game open in the seventh, loading the bases on three straight hits with no one out. Two of the safeties were of the infield variety, with Xander Bogaerts beautiful bunt the most notable. Reliver Yander Guevara somehow escaped the jam and turned things over to the Cuban hitters for the bottom of the inning.
Víctor Mesa, Cuba’s manager, gathered his entire team before they hit the dugout, speaking passionately with his usual animation. The talk appeared to be especially inspirational for Yuliesky Gourriel, who entered the day 1-for-13 in the Classic. Gourriel ripped the first pitch he saw for a solo shot to left centre, tying teammate Frederich Cepeda and Korea’s Seung-Yeop Lee for the all-time lead in homers.
Reliever Leon Boyd was hit hard in the frame, giving up two more hits, but got out of the eighth with a 5-2 lead.
Simmons and Schoop teamed up once more to take away Cuba’s run in the next frame. Simmons laced a pitch off the wall in left centre and Schoop planted a double in the left field corner to drive him home. That was all for the Orange, but the run gave them a four-run cushion against Cuba’s vaunted offence.
Boyd looked better in the eighth, retiring all three men to face him, but not without a little performance from Smith. With two out, the Netherlands’ first baseman raced into the camera well to try and catch a foul ball and fell into a cameraman, coming up with the ball. The umpires did not cover the Tokyo Dome’s enormous foul territory so quickly and ruled it as the third out, but replays showed he did not actually catch the ball.
The Dutch once more loaded the bases in the ninth, but could not come up with any more insurance runs. Loek Van Mil did not any additional help in closing the game out for the Netherlands, mowing Despaigne, Gourriel and Yosbany Peraza down 1-2-3.
With the victory, the Netherlands moves onward in the double-elimination bracket to face Japan in the Dome. They will do battle on Mar. 10 at 11 a.m. GMT. Cuba will have less time to regroup against Chinese Taipei in a 10 a.m. GMT contest on Mar. 9.
Six Orange hitters had multiple hits, led by Schoop’s 3-for-6, four RBI performance. He finished a single short of the cycle. Simmons, Sams, and Andruw Jones all got on base three times, with the first two both scoring a pair of runs.
Gourriel and Fernández each finished with a brace of hits. Fernández is hitting .583 for the tournament, but Cuba’s 4-5-6 hitters were only 2-for-11, leaving five men on base. The team hit only .154 with runners on, leaving six stranded after Markwell’s double play magic erased five additional baserunners.
The Dutch won without striking out a batter. Markwell got the victory for his six innings of one-run ball. He walked one and allowed nine hits. Jiménez was charged with loss, lasting only five outs and surrendering two runs on five hits and two walks. Six other hurlers finished the game, with Raicel Iglesías the only to retire more than one batter without giving up a run.
Cuba will have to beat Taiwan to avoid their worst finish in the World Baseball Classic and one of their most meagre showings in their long history. Check back for more about that fixture and the rest of the World Baseball Classic.