Classic day ends with Cuba on brink

Classic day ends with Cuba on brink

Ah, Team Nederland, we hardly knew ye.

Come tonight, one more team will join the pleasant surprise of the World Baseball Classic at the tournament's exit -- and the next team eliminated won't consider it a pleasant experience.

As historic as the run by The Netherlands in this second edition of the Classic was -- and it really was, right up to a 9-3 loss to Team USA on Sunday night -- it wouldn't compare to the history that would be made if Team Cuba loses to Mexico in a Pool 1 elimination game in San Diego, slated for tonight at 11 p.m. ET.

Consider this: Cuba, a power in international baseball for decades, has won 33 of 40 international tournaments it has entered since 1952, which is impressive. Even more so: Cuba has not finished lower than third in an international tournament, dating back to 1939. A loss tonight would leave Cuba in seventh place in this international tournament.

Not that Team Mexico would look favorably on a two-and-out second round a few miles north of its border, but Cuba knows it has to rebound, and do it quickly, or make some history no one would want to make.

"(We) are prepared, and they know what they need to do," Cuba manager Higinio Velez said of his players. "That's why right now, we are not talking all that much, but we do know about the objective, why we came here, and what we are prepared for."

The double-elimination format does have its flip side, of course: There will be a battle of winners tonight as well, as Venezuela takes on Puerto Rico in Game 4 of Pool 2 in Miami, slated for 8 p.m. ET. The two teams earned that matchup with Saturday victories over The Netherlands and the U.S., respectively.

And another winner-winner matchup -- the third meeting of this tournament for Japan and Korea -- is slated for Tuesday after Asia outdid Latin America in the doubleheader that kicked off the San Diego action Sunday.

In a rematch of the 2006 Classic final, Japan took control early and maintained the pressure with Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound, cruising to a 6-0 victory that again used the tournament to turn the tables on its longtime international nemesis. Cuba had won the last three meetings between the two nations, most recently in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and seven of the last nine overall.

In the nightcap, Korea was as relentless as its cheering section in taking an 8-2 victory over Mexico, setting up the Tuesday rubber match with Japan. The host team won in Tokyo in a 14-2 romp, but Korea rallied to win 1-0 in the Pool A finale to take the higher seed out of the Asia pool.

Team USA made sure it wasn't the latest victim of The Netherlands, using extra-base heroics from shortstop Jimmy Rollins (triple, HR, four RBIs), new second baseman Brian Roberts (triple, double) and outfielder Adam Dunn (HR) to roll to a big victory in Miami, setting up a Tuesday matchup with the loser of tonight's Venezuela-Puerto Rico game.

"It doesn't much matter to me who it is," USA manager Davey Johnson said. "We've been beaten by both of them, so it doesn't much matter to me."

All that matters to U.S. is that they're continuing the voyage, sights set on Dodger Stadium.

The voyage for The Netherlands ended at the same time. But along the way on this orange-hued trip, the baseball world found a new team to appreciate.

The Netherlands actually wound up going 2-4 in the tournament, but having beaten the mighty Dominican Republic twice and given powerhouses Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the U.S. all they could handle, the Dutch did themselves proud.

"We have given everything we got every single day, and at the outset, we had confidence," said Major League veteran Randall Simon. "I'm very proud of my team, very proud of my manager, very proud of every single teammate because they put everything out. And now I know that we lost, but we can go home with our head up high because Netherlands during the next Classic, I know that lots of people are going to respect us more because nobody thought that we would be here at this time. ...

"I'm 1,000 percent sure that we, the Dutch team, played baseball amongst the best baseball players in this 2009 Classic."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.