The semi-finals are set for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, as Japan, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico will begin play tonight at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
The United States looked like it was in prime position to move on to the semi-finals after handily beating Puerto Rico 7-1 in the second round-opener, but dropped a heartbreaking game 3-1 to the Dominican Republic, setting up a rematch with Puerto Rico.
The USA lineup would then get shut down by Nelson Figueroa, who didn’t even pitch in the big leagues in 2012, as they fell to Puerto Rico 4-3, ending their run in the WBC.
Over on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the most dramatic moment was a 7-6 come-from-behind win for tournament upstarts, the Netherlands over vaunted Cuba. Down 6-4 in the 8th inning, the Dutch tied the score on a 2-run home run by Braves’ phenom Andrelton Simmons. The gritty Dutch then got a walk-off sac fly from career minor-leaguer Kalian Sams to score Andruw Jones and secure a spot in the semi-finals.
Japan dominated Pool 1 in front of the home crowd at the Tokyo Dome.
After trailing Chinese Taipei 3-2, the Japanese scored a run each of the 9th and 10th innings, allowing for Toshiya Sugiuchi came in for the save.
Team Japan went on to completely dismantle the Dutch 16-4, scoring in all seven innings before the mercy rule was invoked. The Japanese offense pounded Dutch pitching for five home runs, including a grand slam from shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.
The two-time defending champs had punched their tickets to San Francisco. They would defeat the Dutch again 10-6 in a game to determine seeding for the semifinals.
Team Cuba had obliterated the competition in the opening round of the WBC, but saw its bats get shut down by career minor-leaguer Diegomar Markwell, who pitched six innings of one-run ball for the Netherlands. Orioles’ prospect Jonathan Schoop went 3-for-6 with four RBIs including a three-run home run that broke the game wide open for the Dutch.
After getting obliterated by Team Japan, the rematch would be set up after Cuba pounced on Chinese Taipei 14-0. But the combo of Simmons and Jones was too much for the Cubans. The Dutch clinched it with the most dramatic comeback in the tournament yet, scoring three runs in the final two innings to secure a 7-6 victory and a spot in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, in Miami, another dramatic comeback was brewing. The upstart Italians scored four first-inning runs against the mighty Dominican Republic. But the Dominicans clawed back to make it 4-2 in the 7th inning. After loading the bases, Edwin Encarnacion walked. Hanley Ramirez hit a sac-fly, and Nelson Cruz hit a bullet into the gap, scoring three and giving the Dominicans a 5-4 lead.
Buoyed by 4.2 scoreless innings of relief from their bullpen, the Dominicans held-on as Fernando Rodney came in for the save. Rodney leads the WBC with five saves so far.
Team USA easily handled Team Puerto Rico in their opener 7-1 behind the heroics of David Wright and five scoreless innings from Gio Gonzalez.
The dream match-up was set. USA vs. Dominican Republic to see who’s going to the next round.
However, Wright, the newly anointed Captain America, had been sent back home with sore ribs.
Despite five innings of one-run ball from R.A. Dickey, the American offense was held in check by career minor-leaguer Samuel Deduno, who struck out seven Americans over four innings, allowing just one run.
Braves all-star closer Craig Kimbrel came into the game in the 9th. The major league saves leader over the past two seasons, who posted a ridiculous 16.6 K/9 innings, promptly allowed a lead-off double to Nelson Cruz. After two more singles from Jose Reyes and Erick Aybar, it was 3-1, Dominican.
Fernando Rodney pitched a perfect ninth and the USA found itself behind the eight-ball.
Team Italy would not go away quietly getting out to a quick 3-0 lead over Puerto Rico, but the Puerto Ricans battled back scoring three-runs in the bottom of the eighth, with only one ball even leaving the infield.
The rematch with Team USA was set.
Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong allowed a run in the first inning, and Team Puerto Rico never looked back.
Team USA was held scoreless by Nelson Figueroa, the same one that is 38-years old, has been on six teams in a nine-year big league career, and didn’t even pitch in the majors last season.
The wheels came off for the USA in the sixth inning.
Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano couldn’t record an out and three more runs had scored.
After rallying in the third to bring the score 4-3, the USA had the bases loaded, but major-league journeyman J.C. Romero came in and got Eric Hosmer to ground out to end the inning and would wind up recording a four-out save.
The Dominican Republic beat Puerto Rico in the game for seeding.
The semifinals get underway tonight in San Francisco with Japan taking on Puerto Rico. The Dominican Republic will meet the Netherlands on tomorrow, and the winners will play in the final on Tuesday.