The winning rally began with a sacrifice bunt. Really, it did.
Playing for the first time under World Baseball Classic rules designed to prevent long extra-inning games, Japan scored two times in the 11th inning on Sunday to defeat the Netherlands, 8-6, in both teams' second-round opener. After beginning the inning with runners at first and second base under tournament rules, Japan had Seiya Suzuki bunt them over to second and third. Sho Nakata followed by delivering a single to bring both of them home.
The Netherlands was given the same advantage, beginning the bottom of the 11th with runners at first and second, but was unable to score.
Japan remained undefeated in WBC 2017, and now likely needs only one win in two games against Cuba and Israel to advance to the semifinals for a fourth consecutive time. Japan is the only country to make the semifinal round in each of the first three World Baseball Classics.
The Dutch were a surprise semifinalist four years ago -- joining Japan in coming out of the Tokyo pool, despite losing to the hosts twice. It wouldn't be nearly as big a surprise if the Netherlands advances this year, although Sunday's loss makes it likely the Dutch will need to beat both Israel and Cuba in their next two games.
They didn't come close to beating Japan in two second-round meetings four years ago, and in fact gave up six home runs in one 16-4 loss. Sunday's game was much closer.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Kikuchi helps Japan escape: The Netherlands looked ready to rally when Jurickson Profar walked with one out in the seventh and Xander Bogaerts followed with a ground ball seemingly headed for center field. But Japan's second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi dove, backhanded the ball, then flipped it from his glove on the ground to shortstop Hayato Sakamoto. Japan had a forceout, and Ryo Akiyoshi came on to strike out Wladimir Balentien to end the inning.
Senga shuts it down: The Netherlands kept pace when Japan scored in the second inning, and responded with four when Japan scored four in the third. After Japan took the lead again with a run in the fifth, the Dutch opened their half of the inning with an Andrelton Simmons single, followed by a Profar double. But Japanese reliever Kodai Senga, who features a 95-mph fastball and a nasty split, struck out Bogaerts looking and Balentien swinging. Didi Gregorius grounded out to end the inning.
Coco power: The only player in the top six of the Netherlands' lineup who isn't a current Major Leaguer is Balentien, the cleanup hitter known as Coco. Balentien, who played for the Mariners and Reds from 2007-09, has played for Japan's Tokyo Yakult Swallows the last six years, hitting 60 home runs in 130 games in 2013. So his game-tying two-run shot in the third inning was no surprise to the local fans.
Sho time: Nakata was Japan's cleanup hitter at the start of a fall-exhibition series, but struggled and was pushed to the fifth spot behind Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh. Nakata said Japan's hitting coach Atsunori Inaba told him to swing as hard as he can. Now, he has three home runs in four tournament games -- including a three-run shot in the third inning on Sunday.
WHAT'S NEXT Japan: The hosts have a day off before they play Cuba on Tuesday at 6 a.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV.
Netherlands: The Dutch, who lost to Israel in a first-round game that only determined seeding, will face the tournament's surprise team again on Monday at 6 a.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV.
Israel's remarkable run in the World Baseball Classic has now carried into the second round.
After three straight wins to top Pool A in Seoul, the darlings of the tournament opened Pool E at Tokyo Dome Sunday with a 4-1 win over Cuba. A win in either of Israel's remaining games, against the Netherlands and Japan, could send the underdog team to Dodger Stadium for the semifinals.
Former Major Leaguer Jason Marquis and three relievers limited Cuba to five hits, and Pool A MVP Ryan Lavarnway's two hits highlighted an Israel offense that clicked at the right time. Marquis allowed a home run to Cuban star Alfredo Despaigne, but Lavarnway cancelled that out with his run-scoring single in the fourth, and Zach Borenstein's single in the sixth put Israel on top.
"We've been looking forward to this the whole offseason," Borenstein said. "We have something to prove. Our goal is to win the last game of the tournament."
They've won every game they've played in the tournament so far, going all the way back to three wins in a September qualifier in Brooklyn, N.Y. They still have more work to do, but Sunday's win sets them up with a good chance to be one of the two teams that will eventually advance out of Pool E.
"We've pitched extremely well, we've had timely hitting and played good defense," manager Jerry Weinstein said.
Cuba also lost its opening game in first-round play, to host Japan, before wins over China and Australia propelled the Cubans into the second round. Cuba likely needs to win its next two games, against Japan and the Netherlands, for a chance to get to the semifinals.
"Our pitchers struggled today," manager Carlos Marti said. "It was difficult for our pitchers to adjust to this umpire's strike zone. But I think eight walks, at a high level of international play like the WBC, that's too many walks."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Lavarnway stays hot: In a pregame ceremony Sunday, Lavarnway was presented with a trophy for winning the MVP award in Pool A last week in Seoul. Lavarnway carried his Seoul success into Tokyo, with a fourth-inning double to tie the game at 1-1 and a ninth-inning single that helped lead to an insurance run. Lavarnway also threw out Cuba's speedy center fielder, Roel Santos, trying to steal.
It's Despaigne, again: Despaigne is now the all-time World Baseball Classic home run leader. Sunday's shot off Marquis was his third in this tournament and his seventh overall, breaking a tie with teammate Frederich Cepeda. Despaigne homered once in the '09 Classic and three times in six games in WBC '13.
Marquis goes deeper: Weinstein only allowed Marquis to throw 69 pitches, meaning he can't pitch again in this round of the tournament. Marquis gave up only the Despaigne home run in 5 2/3 innings, giving Israel a chance to come back and win the game. More >
"We felt the game would dictate it," Weinstein said. "We knew winning this game was very important. He had a lot left in the tank [in the sixth], but we liked the matchup with [reliever Zach] Thornton."
Strength in the 'pen: Israel had one roster change for the second round, and newly added White Sox reliever Brad Goldberg took over as the setup man. Goldberg hit 96 mph on the radar gun, but when he walked Cepeda to bring up Despaigne with two outs in the eighth, Weinstein went to Zeid. Zeid walked Despaigne on four pitches to load the bases, but he got William Saavedra to ground to third base to end the threat. More >
"Those guys at the back end have got really good stuff," Lavarnway said. "We trust them, and they trust their stuff against the hitters."
QUOTABLE "I don't agree with that. We're representing Israel. Our guys qualify under the heritage rules. I think if you ask anyone in our clubhouse, we're representing Israel. We're not a JV team for the U.S. We're Team Israel. Make no mistake." -- Weinstein, in response to a Cuban reporter questioning whether his team is really a "United States 2" or "United States 3" team rather than an Israel team
"Before the game, we didn't know Israel had such good players. When we played against them, we saw. I think Israel has a chance to go to the semifinal round out of this pool." -- Marti
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Israel scored an insurance run on a safety squeeze in the eighth inning, with Blake Gailen getting the bunt down and Borenstein scoring from third base.
"It was a perfect situation for it," Weinstein said. "A left-handed pitcher, a left-handed hitter. That lane is open to bunt."
WHAT'S NEXT Cuba: Cuba, which lost to Japan, 11-6, in the Pool B opener, will face the hosts in a second-round game Tuesday at 6 a.m. ET.
Israel: Israel will be back in action Monday at 6 a.m. ET against the Netherlands, in a rematch of a Pool A game the Israelis won, 4-2, in Seoul.
Puerto Rico remained red-hot at the 2017 World Baseball Classic and beat Mexico, 9-4, behind a pair of home runs from Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and a homer from Cubs infielder Javier Baez in a wild game Saturday night at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Coming off a dominant 11-0 victory Friday against Venezuela, Puerto Rico led wire-to-wire again Saturday, withstanding a midgame rally by Mexico. Puerto Rico improved to 2-0 in Pool D with the win, putting the team in a good position to claim a top seed for the second round in San Diego.
"Any victory is good, but this is ensuring something good," Lindor said. "It's not over yet, but the work here continues in Mexico. We have to play strong tomorrow, whatever happens."
Lindor mashed a two-run bomb in the first inning and added a solo shot in the seventh, the first hits of WBC '17 for the rising star. Baez iced the game with a three-run blast in the ninth. Puerto Rico also got RBIs from Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and Astros teammates Carlos Beltran and Carlos Correa.
Mexico fell to 0-2 on home soil, meaning it needs a win Sunday against Venezuela (10 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV) and some additional help to force a potential tiebreaker game. With Puerto Rico being the only two-win team in Jalisco, all four Pool D countries are still in play for the second round.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Lindor launches two: Lindor crushed a mammoth homer over the billboards in right field to give Puerto Rico a 2-0 lead two batters into the game. Lindor's blast off Mexico starter Miguel Gonzalez (White Sox) came on a 1-2 pitch and scored Angel Pagan, who led off with a single.
Lindor took Yankees Minor Leaguer Giovanny Gallegos deep to right in the seventh for what proved to be the deciding run for Puerto Rico. More >
Laird leads the way:Brandon Laird drove in Mexico's first run with a single in the first and then sparked a three-run rally in the seventh with a leadoff double. He scored on a single by Chris Roberson.
Baez seals it: Baez put an exclamation point on the night for Puerto Rico with his three-run shot in the ninth. As he watched the ball soar over the left-field wall, Baez took a few steps and then placed his bat on the ground before rounding the bases.
Error costs Mexico: A dropped foul pop by Mexico catcher Xorge Castillo came back to bite the team in a big way in the ninth inning, providing Puerto Rico with an extra out and setting up Baez's homer. With a runner on base and two out, Beltran lifted a foul pop and Castillo called off third baseman Laird, only to see the ball pop out of his catcher's mitt. Beltran eventually reached on a walk and Molina followed with a run-scoring single to give Puerto Rico a 6-4 lead. Baez then homered to left to put the game out of reach.
"It would have been different -- I am not going to -- it's not his fault," Mexico manager Edgar Gonzalez said. "It's okay. But he should have made that catch -- the catcher called it. If the game keeps 5-4, it would have been better."
QUOTABLE "They have been waiting for this tournament for four years, and coming in here and not giving 100 percent in one game is inconceivable. They are going to come out [Sunday] like it was the first game in the round. We have very good talent, very good youth." -- Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez
"Every hitter has gone 0-for-9. Any time he picks up, he can carry the team, so that's part of baseball. He picks up his rhythm, and I want him -- the only way you get out of a slump is to keep attacking." -- Gonzalez on younger brother and Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez
WHAT'S NEXT Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico is the home team against Italy on Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET. Puerto Rico wins Pool D with a victory.
Mexico: Mexico will be the road team against Venezuela on Sunday night, with first pitch scheduled for 10 p.m. ET. Mexico needs a victory and a win by Puerto Rico over Italy to stay in the mix for a potential tiebreaker.
The Dominican Republic got one step closer to punching its ticket to the second round of the World Baseball Classic on Saturday, besting the United States in a highly anticipated clash of two Pool C titans.
With back-to-back home runs from Nelson Cruz and Starling Marte in the eighth inning, the Dominican Republic stormed back from a five-run deficit and stayed unbeaten in the tournament with a 7-5 win in Miami. The game was played before a raucous, sold-out crowd of 37,446, establishing a new record for Marlins Park. The ballpark's previous high was 37,116 on Opening Day in 2014.
"The fans never left the game," Cruz said, "and I know that there are many people who traveled from many parts of the Dominican Republic and from the United States just to watch this game, and I'm always thanking God that he gave us the opportunity for them to leave happy, that their trip was worth it."
The win improves Dominican Republic to 2-0 in Pool C and extends its Classic winning streak to 10 games. The reigning champions are now 16-4 all-time in the tournament and are in prime position to claim the top seed for the second round in San Diego.
The U.S. (1-1) now enters Sunday's evening matchup with Canada (7 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV) in need of a win or a Colombia loss to the Dominicans (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV) to keep its tournament hopes alive. With the Dominican Republic being the only two-win team in Miami, all four Pool C countries are still in play for the second round.
Despite a stellar performance from starter Marcus Stroman, the U.S. bats went cold and the bullpen squandered a 5-0 lead as the Dominican team scored seven unanswered runs.
"We faced a pitcher that was difficult. He was tough," Dominican manager Tony Pena said. "When they took him out in the fifth inning, then we exhaled. We were able to capitalize.
"As I always say, baseball is a box of surprises. You have to play 27 outs, and until you get to 27 outs, there is still a ballgame."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Cruz, Marte go back-to-back: Facing one of the best relievers in baseball in Andrew Miller, the Dominican Republic vaulted past the U.S. in the eighth with back-to-back home runs from Cruz and Marte. Miller began the inning by plunking Jose Bautista and yielding a single to Carlos Santana. Cruz, who ranks first in the Majors with 127 home runs over the last three seasons, brought everyone home and ignited the crowd with a three-run blast to left field. Marte then took Miller deep the opposite way on the very first pitch he saw, adding an insurance run and atoning for his earlier fielding gaffe.
"You give that kind of lineup some hope and opportunity, they got a chance to hurt you," Team USA manager Jim Leyland said.
With an exit velocity of 107 mph and a launch angle of 23 degrees, Cruz's homer qualified as a barrel, per Statcast™. The Mariners slugger had 68 such hits last season, putting him second only to Miguel Cabrera in the Majors.
Defensive miscues hand U.S. early lead: A pair of defensive mistakes by the Dominican Republic helped the United States take an early 2-0 lead in the third inning. It started when first baseman Santana couldn't haul in an accurate throw from Robinson Cano, allowing Ian Kinsler an infield hit on what may have been an inning-ending out.
Team USA's next batter, Adam Jones, sent a deep fly ball out between Dominican outfielders Marte and Cruz. An Miscommunication between Cruz and Marte resulted in the ball falling in and out of Cruz's glove for an error, allowing Kinsler to score the game's first run.
"Well, look, when you're playing before a crowd as the one today, you lose communication," Pena said. "So what happened, they called for the ball, but they could not hear each other, and that happens all the time in the game."
Manny's moment: Orioles star Manny Machado fired up the Dominican faithful with a towering solo shot in the sixth inning. Machado's home run launched off his bat at 109.5 mph and traveled 435 feet, per Statcast™, which would have been his fifth-longest homer of 2016.
Machado's homer put the Dominican Republic on the board and helped sparked a seven-run comeback.
"The other team was playing one heck of a game, so I was trying to do something for the team, to get it started," Machado said. "I know that we are a better team, but started bad. But our fans gave us their support and we kept going ahead nonstop after that.
STROMAN STIFLES DOMINICAN BATS The Blue Jays right-hander tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings. He allowed just three hits and struck out four batters, including Toronto teammate Bautista.
"I don't know that I've ever seen anybody more determined than he was tonight," Leyland said. "I mean, he wanted it. He wanted to get it, and he did. He did an absolutely unbelievable job."
Stroman finished with 64 pitches, one shy of the first-round maximum, meaning he is not eligible to pitch in the tournament again until Thursday.
QUOTABLE "Maybe a game against Detroit, home runs in the World Series, but I think that the flavor, the taste of this one is more special because you're playing for your country, no matter what team you play, the people are supporting you. In the U.S., when you play the game, it is like a business. When you leave, people forget about you. But when you play for the Dominican Republic, the fans always support you." -- Cruz, on how Saturday's home run compares to others throughout his career.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Saturday marked the first time Miller had allowed multiple home runs as a reliever since Sept. 22, 2015, while with the Yankees. He hadn't surrendered two home runs in the same inning since July 26, 2011, when he was a starter for the Red Sox.
WHAT'S NEXT Team USA: The Americans could have clinched a second-round appearance with a win Saturday, but instead, they'll enter Sunday's matchup against Canada with their tournament future very much unknown. The Pool C finale is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV.
"We battled our tail off tonight, and we'll battle our tail off tomorrow," Leyland said. "I don't expect anybody with their head down."
Team Dominican Republic: The Dominicans control their own fate. They can sweep Pool C and advance to San Diego on Sunday by defeating Colombia at 12:30 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV.
Martin Prado produced the first five-hit game in World Baseball Classic history, including the game-winning RBI double in the 10th inning that propelled Venezuela to its first victory in this year's tournament, 11-10, over Italy on Saturday at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Following an 11-0 on loss on Friday night to Puerto Rico, Venezuela trailed 5-0 in the fifth inning before its offense finally came to life with eight unanswered runs. Alcides Escobarsingled in the team's first run of the tournament in the fifth, and he later added a two-run double down the left-field line in the sixth to tie the game at 5.
Venezuela and Italy are both 1-1 in Pool D round-robin play. Puerto Rico (1-0) and Mexico (0-1) played later Saturday night. The top two teams in the pool will advance to the second round of the tournament in San Diego. On Sunday, Venezuela plays Mexico, while Italy faces Puerto Rico.
"We had to win this game some way," Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel said. "I have had a lot of ballgames in my career, playoffs and World Series, and I've been involved in a lot of games, and this is probably -- this is the top three that I have been involved in. Italy was a tremendous opponent."
Salvador Perez drilled a go-ahead homer with one out in the ninth inning, but he was forced out of the game when he and Drew Butera collided on a play at the plate after Italy tied the game in the ninth. Closer Francisco Rodriguez was also injured on the play for Venezuela, which is looking to earn a trip to the second round of the Classic for the first time since 2009 when it reached the semifinals.
According to a Major League Baseball official on site, Perez sustained a left knee injury and has been referred for further diagnostic testing. According to a tweet by Team Venezuela late Saturday night, an MRI revealed no structural damage. But the inflammation will force the catcher to miss the rest of the tournament.
"I went to back to Salvador, and I went back to Francisco, and then back to Salvador. It was the weirdest thing," Vizquel said. "Two guys down at the same time. One guy said he's OK, the other one said, 'I can't walk.' There were a lot of emotions going on on that play."
Venezuela scored three runs in the top of the seventh to take an 8-5 lead, but Italy would not go down without a fight. Francisco Cervelli knocked in John Andreoli with a single -- one of his three hits in the game -- to cut the lead to one in the bottom of the inning. Andreoli then tied the score at eight with a single of his own.
Alex Liddi and Brandon Nimmo both crushed solo home runs in the fourth, while Daniel Descalso contributed three RBIs for Team Italy, which was riding the momentum of its stunning ninth-inning comeback victory over Team Mexico on Thursday.
"Right now, we cannot get pressured by emotions because tomorrow we have another game," Italy manager Marco Mazzieri said. "We turned the victory the other day. We're going to turn this game the same way."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Injuries pile up: Though Venezuela came out on top, it lost a few key players to injury. Perez was hurt making a game-saving play at the plate in the ninth when Butera, who ran through a stop sign while rounding third, dove into his knee. Rodriguez sustained a pulled groin on the same play, while reliever Silvino Bracho strained his right hamstring earlier in the contest. More >
Descalso's clutch hitting: Descalso, who signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in February, helped Team Italy jump out to an early lead with a pair of two-out hits. The 30-year-old infielder got Italy on the board in the first with a double to left field to score Cervelli, and he added a single in the third that drove in Cervelli and Rob Segedin. Descalso's 2-for-4 afternoon raised his Classic average in 2017 to .375. More >
Prado's nifty grab: Nimmo stepped up to bat in the eighth inning with Butera on first and one out and skied a foul popup toward the third-base dugout. Prado raced over from the infield dirt, reached over the wall and snagged the ball out of the air, tumbling into the stands. Butera tagged up and advanced to second on the catch and came in to score the tying run on Andreoli's single, but Prado's heroics received a standing ovation from the crowd.
QUOTABLE "They never went down, even though we came back and we tied it, 5-5. They kept scoring. We went ahead twice, they came and they tied the game, and no doubt about it, it was a very interesting game where there was everything, all kinds of things, a lot of strategy from both teams, and I didn't know Italy could play baseball like this. I have to take my hat off. They were a tremendous team to compete with." -- Vizquel
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Prado singled in the first, third and seventh, and he added doubles in the fifth and 10th to complete the first five-hit game in Classic history. The 33-year-old infielder, who recorded one five-hit game with the Marlins in 2015 against the Mets, also added a walk for good measure.
WHAT'S NEXT Venezuela: Team Venezuela caps off play in Pool D when it hosts Team Mexico at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Italy: Team Italy takes on Team Puerto Rico at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday .