Not just another game for DR against Netherlands
MIAMI -- Hollywood would bill the Kingdom of the Netherlands-Dominican Republic matchup in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic on Monday as a David-vs.-Goliath scenario.
The Dominican Republic, however, isn't buying the idea, even if it has become the first team to advance to the Classic semifinals undefeated.
The Dominican Republic learned the hard way in 2009, the last time there was a Classic.
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It was the victim of a first-round elimination.
And the Netherlands did the damage.
The Netherlands, which won two out of three in the first and second round of this year's tournament, including beating Cuba twice in the second round, won only three games total in the first two Classics. Two of those three wins were against the Dominican Republic in the first round of 2009. The Netherlands strong-armed the Dominican Republic, giving up only three runs in the two games. Now, they meet again, a chance for the Dominican Republic to make amends.
"I wouldn't call it a debt but our fans believe it is,'' said Dominican Republic second baseman Robinson Cano, the MVP in each of the first two rounds. "We have to forget what happened in the past and play hard. It's a matter of winning each game to remain in the fight.''
Ask Cubs fans. Past failures aren't that easily forgotten.
Heck, ask Dominican Republic closer Fernando Rodney.
He hasn't cleared his mind of that 2009 failure.
"I'd like the moment to be there and face Netherlands,'' said Rodney, who has earned saves in five of the six Dominican Republic wins in the first two rounds. "We want to see what's going on because everybody talks about Netherlands. I want to see them the ninth inning, one run, two runs up, and then I'll tell you.''
The first two rounds are double-elimination, but once the Classic gets to semifinals it is win or go home.
And it's a championship, not revenge, that is the focus of Dominican manager Tony Pena.
"We are not thinking of the past, we are thinking of the present,'' he said. "Whatever happened, happened. Many of these boys who are now here were not there then.''
There are, however, some players from both teams who have returned, and they remember 2009 well. Seven players on the Dominican Republic roster were on the 2009 team, including right-hander Edinson Volquez, who will start against Netherlands on Monday. Volquez also started Game 1 of the 2009 Classic, and lost to Netherlands, 3-1, giving up three unearned runs in the first inning.
And there are 11 players on Netherlands who return from 2009, including Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen, who was added to the roster for the semifinals and played in 2009 as a catcher. The Netherlands also includes pitcher Shairon Martis, who missed the 2009 Classic, but no-hit Panama in the Netherlands' only victory in 2006. It is the only no-hitter in tournament history.
"That was an experience we went through,'' said Rodney. "The important thing is to go to San Francisco just like we have did in Miami, and to play there and to thank God because we got to the next round.''
The Dominican Republic does have reputation on its side. Seven of its players have appeared in an All-Star Game -- a total of 20 appearances.
Andruw Jones is the only former All-Star on the Netherlands roster. Sixteen of the players on the Netherlands 28-man roster listed in the media guide are playing pro ball in North America, including five who appeared in the big leagues in 2012 -- Jones, Jurickson Profar, Jansen, Roger Bernadina and Andrelton Simmons.
Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens downplays any edge because of his country's past success against the Dominican Republic, but does point to 2009 as a turning point for the Netherlands in international competition.
"I think that us going into the second round in 2009 gives us the assurance that we can compete on this high level with the better countries,'' said Meulens. "Coming back this year, once we passed the first round beating Korea, which is a powerhouse, then beating Australia to get to Tokyo, and then beating Cuba twice there to get [to the semifinals], that's just a sign that we have arrived as a country, that people have to make sure that they take us into consideration when we're playing them.''
Pena is buying what Meulens is selling.
"It's not like we're going to take anybody lightly,'' said Pena. "We're going to go out and we're going to play our game. We're going to go out, we're going to have fun, and that's about it. They're going to be tough, but we're going to be tough, also.''
The Dominican Republic definitely was tough in the first two rounds, anchored by a pitching staff that has a 2.17 ERA. It also has hit .291. The Netherlands went 2-1 in each of the first two rounds, which belies an ERA of 5.64.
"We're going to face another tough team,'' said Cano. "If you go all the way through the inning it's because you had a great team and you've been doing your job. We're not going to take anything for granted. We're just going to go out there, and play hard like we do every day. Hopefully God helps us next time to win another game.''
Just another game?
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.