I will admit to having been a WBC Doubting Thomas. Even as the first two editions produced their share of exciting moments, there was no lasting image, or huge shake-up of the baseball hierarchy. This year, though? I take back every use of the word "exhibition." Between the U.S.'s two stirring comeback wins, the iconic Canada-Mexico brawl, and now, a true underdog in the Netherlands making it all the way to the final four, and I'm totally on board.
Pool 1, the "international" pool being hosted at the Tokyo Dome, wrapped up today, to give the winners time to travel to San Francisco for next week's finals. The double-elimination format saw two-time champions Japan through easily, and it came down to this morning's winner-take-all between the Netherlands and Cuba for the final spot. The Dutch Honkballers had already beaten the favored Cubans once, but to do it again required a two-run comeback in the eighth, and this walk-off sac fly in the ninth. Kalian Sams, a Mariners prospect, scored Andruw Jones with a deep fly to center, and the celebration broke the language barrier.
"This game will go down as the biggest game in Dutch history," Netherlands manager Hensley Muelens said.
The first two tournaments' final fours consisted of Japan (x2), South Korea (x2), Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and the U.S, baseball powers all. The Netherlands aren't the scrappy nobodies they might have been last time, but they are an extremely unlikely finalist, and the WBC is better for having them.
The Dutch and Japanese will be joined by two teams from: the Americans and Dominicans, who are both favored, Puerto Rico, and upstart Italy—who are 10 times the underdog the Netherlands are. Those games begin tomorrow.