In powerhouse matchup, Netherlands tops Cuba to open Classic

March 8th, 2023

TAICHUNG, Taiwan -- Cuba against the Netherlands. The two favorites from Pool A. It’s the matchup everyone was waiting for and, amazingly, it was the first one on the docket in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Wednesday’s game between the two international powers proved to be just as advertised for almost six innings of play before the Netherlands broke free for a 4-2 victory at Taichung Intercontinental Stadium.

Funny enough, with both teams' loaded lineups, the game began as a pitchers’ duel. Cuban starter Yariel Rodriguez went four innings -- giving up one run on three hits, while striking out six. The Netherlands’ hurler Tom de Blok, throwing about 10 mph slower than Rodriguez in the mid-80s, performed similarly. He gave up one hit and one run in three innings of work.

The bullpen mostly held up for both sides until the bottom of the sixth inning.

In a 1-1 game, the Netherlands got runners on first and second with one out and Josh Palacios – a Brooklyn kid who plays for the Nationals and whose mother is from Curacao – grounded an RBI single up the middle.

Chadwick Tromp followed that up with a bloop, two-run single to make it 4-1 and break things open.

"To be honest, I was a little sloppy with my pitch selection, but fortunately I got something I could put a bat on," Tromp said postgame. "In those situations we're taught to just battle."

Tromp, an Aruba native who plays for the Braves, said he was proud to represent the island and the Kingdom of Netherlands in that moment. There was also a little watch-party happening back home.

"As you know, it's 12 a.m. over there in Aruba," the catcher said. "But my whole family is up watching the game. They've been always there for me. And they're there for me again this year."

Cuba added a run on an RBI groundout in the seventh by Yadil Mujica – who had an RBI double earlier in the game – but that was it for Armando Johnson’s squad. The Dutch bullpen held tight and Honkbal prevailed.

Manager Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens stressed how important getting this first victory was -- especially against a superb team in Cuba.

"It feels great. It's very, very important to win the first game," Meulens said. "It takes a monkey off your back right away. It relaxes everybody. We know we have the talent."

As he said pregame, the Dutch MO is for their pitchers to pitch to contact so their stellar defense can make plays. Today, they did just that.

"Despite throwing six walks, we got some, like, 17 ground-ball outs and that's a stellar defense these guys can play," he said. "That's why we've got a bunch of Gold Gloves out there."

The Netherlands' next game is against Panama here on Thursday (11 p.m. ET Wed., FS2), while Cuba takes on Italy later on Thursday (6 a.m. ET Thu., Tubi). Chinese Taipei is also in Pool A. Each team faces the other four in round-robin play, with the pool's winner and runner-up advancing to the quarterfinals in Tokyo against the top teams from Pool B.

Cuba and the Netherlands had met four previous times in the World Baseball Classic, with the Netherlands winning three of the games. Cuba’s lone triumph came in the first round of the inaugural Classic in 2006. Cuba advanced from Pool C along with Puerto Rico that year and went on to reach the championship game, losing to Japan.

In the 2013 Classic, the Netherlands defeated Cuba in the first game of the second round, and the two faced off a second time days later in an elimination game with a spot in the semifinals on the line. The Netherlands prevailed again, coming back from a two-run eighth-inning deficit to win, 7-6. The Netherlands notched a 14-1 win over Cuba when the two matched up in the second round of the 2017 Classic.