Going into the bottom of the eighth inning, baseball fans everywhere had to be wondering if someone had cast a spell on the World Baseball Classic.
The Netherlands, having upset the mighty Dominicans two days before, were leading Puerto Rico 1-0. Time and again, the Dutch pitching and defense had managed to escape jams.
In the third inning, right fielder Eugene Kingsale nailed Bernie Williams at the plate on a great throw, keeping the score at Netherlands 1, Puerto Rico 0.
Puerto Rico threatened again in the fourth. With runners at first and third with one out, David Bergman was brought in to relieve the starting pitcher, Rick VandenHurk. He enticed Mike Aviles to ground into an inning-ending double play.
In the sixth inning, Puerto Rico threatened again. With two on and two out, 19-year old Juan Carlos Sulbaran was brought in to face Puerto Rican hero Pudge Rodriguez.
Sulbaran pitched last summer for a high school in Florida. With two nasty sliders in the dirt Sulbaran struck out Rodriguez!
Puerto Rico again mounted an attack in the seventh inning. Mike Aviles led off with a double to right center field. Yadier Molina’s bunt was gobbled up by charging first baseman Randall Simon and Aviles had to stay at second.
Sulbaran next hit Alex Cora in the toe with a pitch. Jesus Feliciano, who had replaced Bernie Williams in left field in the previous inning, hit a hard comeback that the kid pitcher deflected. Everyone was safe.
If Sulbaran had let the ball go through to the second baseman, the Dutch would likely have turned a double play. Instead, bases were now loaded with one out.
Escape, again! Ramon Vazquez popped up to shortstop. Perennial MLB All-Star Carlos Beltran squared off against the 19-year old. The kid won the battle as he got Beltran to bounce one weakly back to him, ending the threat.
Puerto Rico broke through in the eighth. Three bases on balls - the first by another 19-year old, Red Sox farmhand Dennis Neuman, the other two by Dutch veteran Michiel van Kampen - and bases were loaded again.
Team closer Leon Boyd was brought in and here the magic ended. Yadier Molina doubled down the left field line, scoring two. A single by Jesus Feliciano drove in a third run.
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