BRNO, Czech Republic – The Netherlands claimed the 2014 European Baseball Championship title exactly the way it won all its games in the tournament: crushing home run after home run. The Dutch launched five roundtrippers and got strong pitching from veterans Rob Cordemans and Tom Stuibergen to claim title No. 21 for Europe’s top baseball-playing country.
Cordemans was opposed by Italy’s Michael Colla, of the Tampa Bay Rays. Colla was solid in a win over Germany, surrendering one run and seven baserunners in six frames. He was 7-12, 4.38 in AA for the Tampa Bay Rays. Cordemans is the all-time the Netherlands win leader and has worn the Orange for 20 years. The start of the game was greeted by beautiful sunny weather and a light breeze.
The Dutch righthander, who had not yet pitched in the tournament after burning his hand only days before it started, looked good in the first, going 1-2-3 with a strikeout looking.
In the bottom of the frame, Randolph Oduber greeted Colla with a 2-0 home run to left, his fourth dinger of the tournament to put the Netherlands up 1-0.
In the second, Cordemans picked up where he left off, going 1-2-3 through the heart of Italy’s order, getting Alex Sambucci looking and Cubs’ minor leaguer Alberto Mineo swinging.
Kalian Sams took a page out of Oduber’s book, ripping a leadoff homer, but to dead centre field to lead off the 2nd. Colla again settled down quickly and got the next three batters without an issue, striking out powerful Curt Smith (.448/.515/.1.034 at the Euros entering the game).
Cordemans was perfect once more in the third, racking up another strikeout, making it four on the day. Colla finally snapped the streak of leadoff homers and got a three-up, three-down inning in the third, ending with a strikeout of Hainley Statia.
Juan Carlos Infante finally figured out Cordemans, hitting a single up-the-middle to start the fourth. Stefano Desimoni followed with a bloop to centre field. Alessandro Vaglio bunted the runners over with a sacrifice to the pitcher, to put two runners in scoring position for Italy as the rain began to pour. Cordemans buckled down to get Sambucci looking on nine pitches before losing Alex Liddi on seven pitches for a free pass to load the bases for Italy. Cordemans, however, reached back for a little extra to strikeout out Mineo looking to leave the bases jammed and the shutout intact.
Curt Smith got the Netherlands’ pattern of leadoff homers back on track, lofting a fly ball to right that looked catchable and just kept going to make the score 3-0.
“I looked up at it and thought, ‘Eh, man, it might get out’, but then saw the [infielders moving] and thought it might not. It had just enough to get out,” explained Smith.
Colla next got slugger Gianison Boekhoudt, the tournament leader in RBI, swinging. Sams was next up and faked a bunt twice before drilling a solo shot to left centre for his second homer in the game and third in the tourney. It was the exclamation point on a good year for Sams, as he hit his 100th professional home run earlier this campaign.
That was all for Colla, who went 3 1/3 frames, giving up four hits, all home runs, walking none, and whiffing four for Italy. New pitcher José Escalona got the next two batters, but the damage was done with the Netherlands up, 4-0 through four innings.
David Bergman, the new pitcher for the Netherlands, got through an easy fifth despite a hit to keep the lead at 4-0. In the bottom of the frame, Escalona set down the Netherlands 1-2-3 with a strikeout looking.
Italy put two on to start the sixth on an easy groundball error and a walk, but Bergman bore down for a strikeout of Sambucci (the cleanup hitter’s third straight) before inducing a 5-4-3 double play from Liddi to keep the Italians off the board.
Hainley Statia delivered the Netherlands’ first single to start the sixth and advanced on a walk. New pitcher, closer Tiaga da Silva, then struck for two strikeouts, but the Netherlands scored a run on another easy defensive miscue, this time by Sambucci at first. It was the fifth run of the day for the Orange, who appeared to be putting the game on ice.
Bergman, though, ran into trouble in the seventh. Mario Chiarini laced a double into the right field corner with one out. Bergman then walked Erik Epifano. Lorenzo Avagnina ripped a double to the left field wall to drive in Chiarini, and another Bergman walk would load the bases. Bergman again gave up a free pass to walk in a run and new pitcher Tom Stuifbergen would hit the next batter to make it 5-3. Stuifbergen would then induced a weak chopper back to him and threw home for a force out, finishing the frame with a Liddi strikeout.
Da Silva kept the deficit at two in the seven despite a Urbanus double, but Stuifbergen got Italy 1-2-3 with two strikeouts in the eighth.
In the lower half of the frame, Smith knocked a pitch by new hurler Pat Venditte to right field in similar fashion as the fourth, and it kept carrying for his second home run. It was the Netherlands’s fifth leadoff hit in eight innings, with four of them longballs, and the score moved to 6-3 over Italy. Despite two walks, one intentional, Venditte got out of the frame, striking out a pair, and Italy was down to its final trip to the plate.
Stuifbergen was up to the task, remained in the game to ensure there would be no rally, and retired Italy 1-2-3. The righty hurled 2 2/3 innings and did not give up a hit or a base on ball, striking out four. Cordemans whiffed six in four frames, scattering three baserunners, while Bergman gave up three runs on four walks and three hits in 2 1/3, getting one swinging.
Colla took the loss to drop to 1-1, while Escalona hurled 1 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings, striking out one. Da Silva gave up on unearned run on two hits and a walk two frames, whiffing a pair. Venditte finished with a two-run frame.
The vaunted Italian offence, which came in hitting .316/.421/.494, was stymied for only five hits, though they did work five free passes while striking out 10 times. Infante, Desimoni, and Epifano all had a safety and a walk, but the 4-5-6 hitters were 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts. Liddi, in particular, seemed to put far too much pressure on himself, drawing a walk, but going 0-for-3 with a strikeout and hitting into a double play.
Meanwhile, the relentless Orange batsmen continued their barrage with six extra base hits and only one single. Sams and Smith were the only two batters with multiple hits, both four-baggers, with the latter also drawing a walk on the way to tournament MVP honours. The Dutch mashed an almost unbelievable 27 home runs in nine games.
The naturally even-tempered Smith remarked with wide grin, “I feel happ! I look at it as a job and don’t take any breaks. It’s three hours on the field, so stay focussed and prepared. Two years ago we lost it against these guys and we had to sit and think about it for two years. Most of the guys from the last championship are back.”
After the game, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands were given individual medals for bronze, silver, and gold, along with corresponding trophies. Various individual awards were given, to be detailed in a subsequent article.
Head Coach Steve Janssen concluded, “It is fantastic—that is the only world! I am pleased and honoured to coach a group of guys like this. It’s good to bring the trophy back to where it belongs in northern Europe. It’s been in the south too long! Our goal was to be undefeated and it a great accomplishment.”