Breaking down Monday’s semifinal game of the World Baseball Classic between Puerto Rico and the Netherlands.
Puerto Rico 4, Netherlands 3, 11 innings
The game: Puerto Rico, the most dominant team in this tournament, had all it could handle with the Netherlands before surviving, 4-3, in 11 innings, needing the tiebreaker rules to pull it out on Eddie Rosario’s sacrifice fly.
It’s amazing the Netherlands could hang around so long with powerful Puerto Rico, throwing six pitchers at the PR, keeping the game tied at 3-apiece.
They shut down Puerto Rico after T.J. Rivera’s homer in the second inning, using five relievers – including Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen – after Rick van Den Hurk lasted just two innings.
Puerto Rico survived the top half of the international tiebreaker when Curt Smith grounded into an inning-ending, bases-loaded double play.
The Netherlands wasn’t so fortunate in the bottom of the 11th.
The inning, which automatically starts with runners on first and second and no outs, began when Yadier Molina bunted the runners over. Javier Baez was intentionally walked. And Rosario finally ended the marathon on a sacrifice fly.
State of the WBC: Puerto Rico, which reached the championship game in 2013 only to lose to the Dominican Republic, are back again, awaiting the winner of the USA-Japan game. Puerto Rico has won all seven games of the tournament, blitzing the field, outscoring the opposition, 55-18.
Pivot point: Puerto Rico captain Molina’s leadoff bunt in the 11th inning, advancing the runners to second and third. The Netherlands intentionally walked Baez, setting the stage for Rosario’s heroics.
Man of the moment: Molina
The Netherlands’ first four batters reached base, with Wladimir Balentien culminating the outburst what should have been a grand slam.
Instead, it was only a two-run homer, thanks to the defensive wizardry of Molina.
Andrelton Simmons opened the game with a single, and Xander Bogaerts was hit by a pitch. Yet, when Jurickson Profar tried to lay down a bunt and missed, Molina popped up and threw to second base, nailing Simmons.
Profar followed with a single to right, and right fielder Eddie Rosario came up with a perfect strike to the plate to keep Bogaerts from scoring. Yet, while Profar was celebrating his hit, wildly clapping his hands. Molina, realizing Profar wasn’t paying attention, fired to first. First baseman T.J. Rivera slapped the tag, and Profar was the second out.
Baltentein followed with a home run, his WBC-leading fourth, but the scoreboard read: Netherlands 2, Molina assists 2.
Manager’s special: No one got more out of his team’s talent this tournament than Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens. They didn’t have the pitching, and a weak bottom of the order, but yet gave Puerto Rico fits, just as they did all tournament.
Meulens, the San Francisco Giants hitting coach, commands tremendous respect the moment he walks into the room, and his players played with passion the entire tournament.
Certainly, after what he accomplished this tournament, he left little doubt he deserves strong consideration for a major-league managerial opening.
What you missed on TV: Puerto Rico utility player Kike Hernandez, who’s battling for a job to make the Dodgers’ opening-day roster, opted instead to play for his country, even knowing it could hurt his big-league chances.
He didn’t play until coming into the game as a pinch-runner Monday night, but instead watched the game from the dugout, his body wrapped with the Puerto Rico flag.
“I have played in two playoffs with the Dodgers, and I went for spring training with the possibility that maybe I would [not] make it for the major leagues because I’m here,’’ Hernandez said. “But I don’t regret it at all. Because I have played two playoffs with the Dodgers, and the experience with this classic does not compare with anything that I’ve played in the past.
“To be in this Classic, there’s no comparison with the experience of being in the Major Leagues. This has been at a different level. It’s an incomparable experience to share this experience. So far we are the greatest talents that we have in Puerto Rico, and it is a tremendous honor to be in the same game with them.’’