In another promotion for the WBC, Japan bested the Kingdom of the Netherlands in dramatic fashion as Rick van den Hurk could not keep the Japanese All-Star lineup on a leash like he has been doing in the past two seasons in the NPB. After Van den Hurk was replaced, the bullpen kept the Dutch in the game pretty well but eventually, the team fell to Japan in eleven innings, losing 8-6.
Japan took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Shogo Akayima hit a sac fly to left field to drive in Sho Nakata.
In the meantime, most of the Dutch lineup grounded out on the pitching of Ayumu Ishikawa. But Jonathan Schoop slammed a solo shot to left field to tie the game at one.
But Van den Hurk was hit in the third as Japan got on base with two singles on Van den Hurk’s fastball and finished it with a three run homerun hit by Sho Nagata. Later that inning, Shogo Akiyama singled home the 5-1. Van den Hurk had some troubles finding the strike zone as the home plate umpire did not reward most of his borderline pitches. But just when it looked that Japan would walk away, the Kingdom of the Netherlands showed life. It started with a one out double by Randolph Oduber, followed by a single line drive by Andrelton Simmons that drove in Oduber for the 5-2. After Jurickson Profar singled down the first base line, Simmons speeded to third to be driven in on Xander Bogaerts’ sac fly to right field. Then Wladimir Balentien tied it all with one mighty blow on a 1-1 pitch.
In the top of the fourth inning, Hensley Meulens pulled Rick van den Hurk after 65 pitches and replaced him with the cousin of Andruw Jones, Diegomar Markwell. After he recorded the second out, a line drive by Yoshitomo Tsutsugo that was caught by Andrelton Simmons, he was pulled in favour of Shairon Martis who got a borderline pitch called for a strike for the final out of the inning. With a runner on third, catcher Seiji Kobayashi singled on a weak line drive, despite Andrelton Simmons stretching out completely, and drove in Hayato Sakamoto to give Japan the 6-5 lead.
The Dutch started the bottom of the fifth inning with a single by Andrelton Simmons and a double to right field for Jurickson Profar to give the Dutch two runners in scoring position, but Kodai Senga then retired the next three hitters to get out of the inning.
In the meantime, Shairon Martis kept the Dutch in the game for the time that he was on the mound. But eventually, he was pulled in the top of the seventh by Hensley Meulens, after he had thrown 49 pitches. With a runner on second, Mike Bolsenbroek made the third out on a strikeout to get the Dutch out of the seventh inning.
One play that needs to be mentioned was the diving stop by second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi, who stretched out completely on what would have been a single up the middle. But he fielded it and backhanded it for the force out at second base in the bottom of the seventh, that retired Jurickson Profar at second and allowed Xander Bogaerts to reach base safely.
With a little bit of help of the first base umpire, Tom de Blok cruised through the eighth inning to keep the Dutch in the game, as they trailed 6-5.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Dutch started what looked like a rally as Didi Gregorius and Jonathan Schoop hit back-to-back singles followed by a strikeout of Curt Smith. Then Dashenko Ricardo worked a six pitch walk to load the bases with only one out. After reliever Hirotoshi Masui blew a couple of fastballs past Randolph Oduber, Andrelton Simmons grounded into a force out at second base and the Dutch failed to take advantage again.
Loek van Mil cruised through the ninth inning, giving up a line drive single to left field as he was another pitcher that kept the Dutch into the game. But eventually Seiya Suzuki, normally a starting pitcher, entered the game to close it. He managed to strike out Profar before giving up a walk to Xander Bogaerts and a single to Wladimir Balentien that advanced Bogaerts to third base to give the Dutch the tying run at ninety feet from homeplate. To force a decision, Balentien was replaced by Dwayne Kemp as baserunner. Didi Gregorius flied out to left field but he did not hit far enough to drive Bogaerts in from third. But then Jonathan Schoop singled up the middle to tie the game and to advance Dwayne Kemp to third. But Curt Smith struck out swinging and the game went into extra innings.
After the two teams did not score, the dreaded tie-breaker rule was used, with runners on first and second and no outs with is perfectly suited for small ball that Japan can execute perfectly. Seiya Suzuki advanced the runners on a sac bunt, before Sho Nakata singled home both runners for the 8-6 lead.
The Dutch did not manage to move the runners over as they went down 1-2-3.
Winning pitcher was Kazuhisa Makita, who pitched in the extra innings and kept the Dutch hitless. Best hitter for Japan was Sho Nakata, who went 3 for 6 with five RBI.
Tom Stuifbergen took the loss for the Netherlands. In 2.1 innings he gave up two unearned runs. Best hitter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands was Jonathan Schoop, who went 3 for 5 with two RBI and a run scored.
Despite the loss and the missed scoring chances, the Dutch could walk off the field with their heads high. They fought like lions against an oponent that is tabbed as one of the favorites to win the WBC.
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