If you were to poll the globe prior to the World Baseball Classic, Korea would have been one of the last countries many would've expected to start the tournament with two losses. But that's exactly the position the Pool A host country and former favorite finds itself on Tuesday, after a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the Netherlands in front of a stunned crowd at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.
Jurickson Profar and Randolph Oduber launched two-run homers and Andrelton Simmons drove in a run and scored another in support of five pitchers for a Dutch team looking to advance out of pool play for the third consecutive World Baseball Classic. Now nearly a decade removed from its global coming-out party in 2009, the Netherlands entered the tournament a trendy favorite after finishing fourth overall in '13.
Which is why Tuesday's matchup was billed as a powerhouse matchup: An early-tournament treat between two teams with legitimate championship chances. But Korea's hopes are in grave danger now after two losses in two days on its home soil. Korea lost to Classic rookie Israel in the tournament opener. The top two teams will advance to the second round.
Looking to start their tournament strong, the Netherlands handed the ball to former Major League starter Rick van den Hurk, who spent the past two seasons pitching in Japan. Van den Hurk allowed three hits and walked two over four shutout innings. Diegomar Markwell, Shairon Martis, Tom Stuifbergen and Loek van Mil combined to limit Korea to just three hits over the final five frames.
"We had to play our 'A' game today to come out on top, and we did. We pitched a very good game," Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. "The Korean team is still tough. They didn't get much hitting today, because our pitchers were on their game today."
Korea, which finished in the top three in the first two World Baseball Classics but didn't advance out of pool play in 2013, scored one run over its first two games, a span of 19 innings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED MLBers lead the Dutch: The strength of the Dutch roster comes from its core of talented Major League middle infielders: Xander Bogaerts, Profar, Simmons, Didi Gregorius and Jonathan Schoop. Meulens had to get creative to get them all in the lineup, sticking Profar in center field, Bogaerts at third and Gregorius at designated hitter. But it paid off. Simmons, Profar and Bogaerts began the game with consecutive hits -- Profar's a two-run homer -- and Simmons drove in another run in the second with a double to give the Netherlands an early 3-0 lead against losing pitcher Kyu Min Woo.
"We had a meeting before the game today," Profar said. "I had a chance to study the pitcher a little bit, just try to follow Simmons. Luckily, I got a good pitch and put on a good swing."
Both sides of the ball: Those big leaguers flashed the leather as well to help the Netherlands keep that early lead. The former Platinum Glove winner Simmons snared a sharp grounder for the game's first out and started a nifty double play with Schoop two innings later to help starter van den Hurk out of a jam. Profar and Bogaerts handled all their chances at their new positions. More >
Slumping sluggers: Korean manager In-Sik Kim made examples of sluggers Tae-Kyun Kim and Dae-Ho Lee after Korea's loss to Israel in Game 1, saying "Today, our No. 3 hitter and No. 4 hitter failed their mission. That's why we had just only one run." Lee managed an early single for his first hit of the Classic on Tuesday, but for the most part, the heart of the lineup went silent again. Kim and Lee have combined to go 1-for-16 with four strikeouts and nine left on base over the first two games. More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Martis, the Dutch reliever who pitched briefly for the Nationals and Twins earlier in his career, threw a scoreless inning -- 11 years after first appearing in the tournament. Just a teenager at the time, Martis.threw a seven-inning no-hitter in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.
WHAT'S NEXT Korea: The Koreans are off on Wednesday before they play their final game of pool play on Thursday against Chinese Taipei. First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 a.m. ET.
Netherlands: The Dutch can all but lock up a second-round slot with a win against Chinese Taipei, which lost 15-7 to Israel in its opener, Wednesday at 4:30 a.m. ET. Right-hander Jair Jurrjens, a former All-Star with the Braves, gets the ball for the Netherlands.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.