Dominicans seek revenge vs. Cinderella Dutch
Path to finals goes through Netherlands, which bounced DR from tournament in 2009
SAN FRANCISCO -- Though members of both teams have tried to play it down, the Dominican Republic-Kingdom of the Netherlands grudge match in Monday night's semifinal at AT&T Park has become one of the most talked about clashes in this year's World Baseball Classic.
The game is set for 9 p.m. ET, and the winner will play Puerto Rico in Tuesday's 8 p.m. ET championship final. All the games can be seen in the U.S. on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
Here's the background: In 2009, the unheralded Dutch knocked the Dominican Republic out of the Classic by beating them twice in what was then a double-elimination first-round format, played down in Puerto Rico. It still smarts for Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes, a member of both Dominican teams.
"I think then, we had too much confidence. We took the field with too much confidence," Reyes said about those games, which the Dominican Republic lost, 3-2 and 2-1. "I always say, in baseball, anything can happen. Any team can win, not only the team that has the most talent wins."
The Netherlands has long been known as a European baseball power. But around the rest of the baseball powerhouses in the World Baseball Classic, they are a decidedly Cinderella story.
Once again, on paper, the Dominicans have the decided edge. Most of their roster is replete with players from Major League teams, like Robinson Cano, Erick Aybar, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Santana and Fernando Rodney. Monday night's starter, Edinson Volquez, is the No. 1 hurler for the Padres who will likely pitch for them on Opening Day in New York against the Mets.
The Dutch have Andruw Jones, Roger Bernadina, Andrelton Simmons and added Jurickson Profar and Kenley Jansen to the roster for the championship round. All of them are natives of Curacao in the Netherland Antilles, which counts, as a far as Classic affiliation is concerned.
Monday night's Dutch starter, Diegomar Markwell, is actually from Rotterdam, via Curacao, and pitched nine years in the Blue Jays' system from 1997-03, but never above Double-A. In a world of sabermetrics and intense advance scouting, Dominican manager Tony Pena claims he has never heard of him.
"Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Pena said. "I am not familiar at all. We are not familiar at all. And that's no joke. You will probably say, you should know this, but we didn't have any time or chance to check the roster yet. But we will do our homework. I promise you that. We will do our homework."
The Dominican Republic, though, is not taking the Dutch for granted at all this time. Remember, the Netherlands are a team that defeated powerhouse Cuba twice already in this tournament. The Dominicans fell behind 4-0 to Italy on Tuesday in Miami, only to come back and win the game. They are 6-0, but their three wins in Pool 2 in Miami over Italy, Team USA and Puerto Rico were by a total of four runs.
The Dominicans are beatable again here and the Dutch know they are capable of engineering another upset.
"That was four years ago and in the past for us," said Dutch manager Hensley Meulens, who as the hitting coach for the defending World Series champion Giants, feels right at home playing in this ballpark. "We have grown so much since then. We have gotten better, in my opinion. We didn't go past the second round that time, but this time we have. We have more youth on our team, more talent than four years ago."
Which means that the Dutch are undaunted.
"We beat Korea over there in Taiwan in the first game and then we beat Australia, Cuba twice," Meulens said. "We had a tough time against Japan, but the guys never gave up. You have to pitch good, you have to play good defense, and then get timely hitting, and we'll come out ahead for sure."
For their part, the Dominicans are saying all the right things. But unlike Japan, which won the first two Classics, their history in the tournament has been spotty, at best. In 2006, they were 5-1 heading into their semifinal game at Petco Park and lost to the Cubans. The loss in Hiram Bithorn Stadium three years later has already been documented.
This time, to win the gold Classic trophy and have the name of their country engraved on its base, the Dominicans will have to win out. If they do so, they will become the first undefeated champion in the history of the tournament.
But to get there, they have to go through the Dutch, with their pesky team of players from the depths of the Major League Baseball's Minor League system and the Netherlands professional league. Some of these guys cut their teeth playing for the Burnaby Bulldogs, Neptunus Rotterdam and the Amsterdam Pirates. Even the legendary Jones is playing this year in Japan.
There is the indignity of losing to the Dutch again. But if this is a grudge match, the Dominican Republic has to wonder -- where is the grudge?
"I think they have a better team than 2009," Reyes said. "They have some guys with a lot of talent over there. But we don't worry about that. We just want to continue the way that we've played so far, worry about our ballclub. We feel very comfortable when we take the field. And we want to continue to play hard, give everything on the field and go from there. Because we know that they got a good team, we have to come out and play the right way if we want to win."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.