Of the four teams who advanced to the second round in Tokyo, the Netherlands, Cuba and Japan were all heavy favorites with Israel playing the role of over achieving underdog. Israel opened up the second round against Cuba and, despite falling behind early 1-0, were able to come back and win their fourth straight. Jason Marquis pitched 5.2 innings and struck out four with the only run coming on a solo home run from Alfredo Despaigne, the hero from Cuba’s last game in the first round.
With one international giant taken down, Japan looked to do the same in the second game of round two against the Netherlands. After two, the teams were tied 1-1, then 5-5 after three. Japan took a lead in the fifth, but in the bottom of the ninth, the Dutch came back to tie again, forcing extra innings. For the first time in the tournament, a game went to 11 innings, testing out the new extra inning rules where each team begins the inning with runners on first and second. As was expected by many opponents of this rule for MLB use in the future, Japan’s lead-off hitter, Seiya Suzuki sacrificed the runners over. Sho Nakata then singled to bring home both runners, giving Japan a two run lead that the Netherlands would be unable to match in the bottom of the inning and a first game win.
Despite their loss to Japan, the Netherlands wouldn’t go winless as they ended Israel’s four game win streak with a dominating performance in their second game in round two. Jair Jurrjens pitched six innings and allowed just a single run on a Nate Frieman solo home run. Behind him, the Netherlands scored 12 and mercied Israel in 8 innings.
While Israel wasn’t able to maintain perfection, Japan won five in a row to start the tournament on Tuesday against Cuba. The home team had already beaten Cuba 11-6 in the opening game of Pool B and they repeated their success with an 8-5 victory in the rematch. The always dangerous Alfredo Despaigne came through for Cuba with three hits and two runs scored, but after Tomoyuki Sugano allowed four runs in four innings, the Japanese bullpen allowed just one more over the next five. Lead-off hitter Tetsuto Yamada provided the bulk of the offense with two home runs, four runs scored and three RBI.
Cuba continued on by playing the Netherlands, looking to force a three way tie at 1-2, their only chance at advancing. The Netherlands, or at least Wladimir Balentian weren’t interested in complying. Facing Lazaro Blanco in the first, Balentian put the Netherlands on the board with a three run home run. In the third, he did it again with a solo shot to start the inning and by the end of three, the Netherlands had a 7-0 lead. That ballooned to 12 the next inning and, while Cuba would put one across, the game ended with the 10 run mercy rule after seven 14-1. Diegomar Markwell would earn the win by shutting down the hard hitting Cuban offense for the first six innings by allowing just that single run.
With Cuba eliminated by going 0-3, it was up to team Israel to beat the unbeaten Japan to get to 2-1 and force a tiebreaker with the Netherlands. The starters, Josh Zeid for Israel and Kondai Senga for Japan, were remarkable, as Zeid went four scoreless and Senga went five. While the bullpen would continue to be strong for Japan, Dylan Axelrod allowed three to reach without recording an out in the sixth (including a lead-off home run) and Zack Thornton allowed all two of those to score as well as two more of his own before the inning ended. This short burst would be all Japan needed to sweep the second round, although they’d get three more in the bottom of the eighth. Israel would add three of their on in the 9th thanks in part to two of their hottest hitters, Ike Davis and Ryan Lavernway, but it wouldn’t be enough and the game ended with two on as Tyler Krieger struck out.
With their loss, there was no need for a tiebreaker as Japan and the Netherlands advanced. This certainly doesn’t take away from team Israel and their surprising run. It was much like the Netherlands themselves in 2013 when they made it all the way to the final round and they could very well improve in the same manner as baseball in Israel gains more attention.
As for the winners, Japan is heading into the finals for the fourth consecutive time after winning the first two tournaments outright. This will be the second appearance for the Netherlands following their 2013 run. In 2013, the Dominican Republic became the first team to win all their games in the WBC, going 8-0, but they have already taken a loss this year making Puerto Rico (currently 4-0) and Japan (6-0) the only teams with the chance to run the table this time around.