Four years ago, the Netherlands was the World Baseball Classic's surprise team. Now, the Dutch are an offensive powerhouse, and on Monday, they made life miserable for the surprise team of WBC 2017.
Striking early in a game they had to win, the Netherlands' hitters didn't let up in a 12-2 win over Israel on Monday that was shortened to eight innings by the tournament's early-termination rule. Didi Gregorius of the Yankees doubled, homered and drove in five runs as the Dutch evened their second-round record at 1-1, keeping alive their hopes of advancing to the semifinals for a second straight tournament.
"We wanted to play like it was Game 7 of the World Series," said Netherlands cleanup hitter Wladimir Balentien, who had three hits and drove in three runs. "We had to win."
The Netherlands will need to win again when it faces Cuba at 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday (on MLB.TV and MLB Network), in its final scheduled second-round game. Israel plays Japan in the game that follows, at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, with the Israelis likely needing a win for a chance to advance to the semifinals.
The Netherlands was disappointed by Sunday's 11-inning loss to Japan, but that game of missed opportunities left the Dutch more determined to start strong against Israel.
"We are a great hitting team," Balentien said, "so we believe in ourselves."
Netherlands starter Jair Jurrjens -- who pitched in the Major Leagues for eight seasons with the Tigers, Braves, Orioles and Rockies -- held Israel to one run in six impressive innings. Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, Balentien and Yurendell de Caster each had three hits for the Netherlands.
"We didn't execute pitches," said Israel manager Jerry Weinstein, whose team beat the Netherlands in a first-round game last week in Seoul. "We fell behind and threw too many non-competitive pitches."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Coco, Coco: Balentien is a local star, having played the past six seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and he set a Japanese single-season record with 60 home runs in 2013. So Japanese fans came to Monday's game with signs showing his nickname, "Coco." They also serenaded him with "Coco, Coco Balentien" when he came to the plate. In two games at Tokyo Dome the past two days, Balentien has a home run, three singles and five RBIs.
"I feel like I'm playing at home, even though I'm not playing for my Japanese team," Balentien said. "That gave me more confidence to give the fans what they want to see."
Rough night for Baker: Israel has a strong bullpen, but the Israelis need to get to it with a chance to win. That happened Sunday when Jason Marquis went into the sixth inning against Cuba, but Cardinals right-hander Corey Baker didn't get an out in the third inning against the Netherlands.
Bunting for runs: Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens opted against having Jurickson Profar bunt when the 11th inning began with runners at first and second Sunday against Japan. Profar did bunt with first and second, none out in the third inning Monday. A big difference: Balentien had been removed for a pinch-runner Sunday. He came up behind Profar on Monday and delivered a two-run single.
Didi the DH: There's nothing wrong with the way Gregorius plays shortstop, but Simmons is one of the best defenders in the world at the position. So Gregorius has been the Netherlands' designated hitter for four of the first five games in the tournament. He was 6-for-16 (.412) in the first four games, and he added a run-scoring double and a three-run home run in the first four innings against Israel. More >
QUOTABLE "I know right now the guys need some rest, but we're not going to relax. We have to have our A game [against Cuba] so we can beat them and advance to the final round." -- Meulens, on why he would give his team a day off before returning to action
WHAT'S NEXT Netherlands: The Dutch team plays its final scheduled second-round game Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET against Cuba.
Israel: Israel will be back in action Wednesday at 6 a.m. ET against Japan.