If you aren’t watching the 2013 World Baseball Classic, I’m going to suggest to start watching this afternoon because the last 24 hours of baseball have been a wild roller coaster ride. Japan and Taiwan played an extra inning game that featured all the drama associated with October baseball in this country. The Italians pulled off a last minute upset over heavily favored Mexico, leaving our neighbors south of the border just one defeat away from elimination. And in maybe the biggest shocker of all, the Netherlands pounded powerhouse Cuba, thanks to some timely hitting and great defense. Let’s breakdown all the action in the last 24 hours, starting with the thriller from Tokyo.
Japan 4 – Chinese Taipei 3
This game was an instant classic and featured just about everything you would want out of a high-level baseball game. I’m going to pick up the action in the 9th inning with Japan trailing 3-2. Infielder Takashi Toritani was able to work a lead-off walk against Taiwanese closer Ching-Ming Wang. Wang was then pulled out of the game for Hung-Wen Chen, who quickly retired the first two batters he faced, leaving Japan just one out away from facing Cuba in the dreaded elimination game. That’s when Japanese manager Koji Yamamoto made the ballsiest decision of the tournament. He decided to send Toritani on a straight steal on the first pitch to Hirokazu Ibata. Toritani was able to sneak into 2nd by the slightest of margins, and just a couple pitches later, he was singled home to knot the game up at 3. It can’t be understated how important that stolen base was. Without it, Toritani doesn’t score and Japan is probably looking at a do-or-die rematch with the Cubans.
After a tense top of the 9th that saw Japan escape a 2 on-2 out situation, the host nation put the game away. Backup catcher Ryoji Aikawa singled to lead off the inning and was replaced with a pinch runner. After a walk and a sacrifice bunt, Sho Nakata came to the plate. Nakata got ahold of a fastball and sent it to deep left field and even though the ballpark held his blast, the winning run was able to mosey on home. Toshiya Suguichi came on in the top of the 10th and notched the save, sending Japan to the winner’s game against the Netherlands for a chance to qualify for the semifinals.
Netherlands 6 – Cuba 2
The Netherlands played a game of double dutch all over the Cubans, rolling up 6 total double plays over the course of the game. The Dutch have one of the most interesting infields in the WBC, playing three shortstops – Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, and Jonathan Schoop – in the infield and it’s working to great effect. Simmons was the star of Thursday evenings game from Tokyo, playing a part in 3 of the twin killings including one of the most unusual double plays you will ever see.
Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena hit a big league pop-up straight centerfielder Roger Bernadina, and Bernadina was unable to pick the ball up against the roof of the Tokyo Dome. Andrelton Simmons immediately noticed his teammates predicament, and he raced out to centerfield, making a sliding catch just before the ball fell to the turf. Eriel Sanchez, who was on first for Cuba, took off when he saw Bernadina struggling, and Simmons, ever alert, nabbed Sanchez before he could return to first. It was a thing of beauty, and the highlight of the Netherlands enormous upset.
The Dutch will now face the Japanese team on Saturday with a chance to go straight to the semifinals, which is no small feat for the Netherlands. The country has only recently caught baseball fever and its continued success will only help the game grow.
Italy 6 – Mexico 5
Another country that’s trying to increase participation in baseball is Italy and results like Thursday’s 6-5 win of Mexico can only help. The Italians were down to their last few outs before taking the lead of Mexico with a 2-run top of the 9th. The Italians had runners on 1st and 3rd with one out and Anthony Rizzo at the plate. Rizzo is probably the Italian’s best hitter and he was able to drive a 2-seamer of Sergio Romo deep into left field. where Edgar Gonzalez, the brother of Adrian Gonzalez, was waiting. Unfortunately for Team Mexico, Gonzalez is normally a 2nd baseman and on this particular play it showed. As he backpedaled near the warning track the ball fell right into his glove, only to pop out immediately and hit the dirt. Both Italian runners would come around to score, putting Italy up 6-5 heading to the bottom of the 9th.
The Italians called Pittsburgh Pirates closer Jason Grilli out of the ‘pen to shut the game down, but not before he made things interesting. Grilli put two runners on for Adrian Gonzalez, Mexico’s cleanup hitter, and then he hit the powerful 1st baseman after running the count to 2-2. That brought Jorge Cantu up to the plate with the sacks full, but Grilli was able to enduce a grounder to 2nd base ending the game.
The takeaway from the opener of Pool D is that Mexico is in big, big trouble, while Italy stands just one win away from advancing. Mexico has to play the best team in the tournament, the United States, tonight in what is essentially a win-or-go-home game.