As the World Baseball Classic winds down, it is important to remember just how it is we got where we are. There are four countries left standing, with Pool 2 ending on Saturday and the Championship Round beginning Sunday, trying to determine which is the best in the world.
This event has really taken on a much bigger feel than I think a lot of people were anticipating. You could feel the buzz across the other countries, but it wasn't until the Dominican Republic-United States game on Wednesday night that showed just how important this event is.
But we aren't done yet. The next few days will be just as intense and combative as the previous two weeks. Here are the most important games of the event so far that have gotten us to this point.
Full results can be found on WorldBaseballClassic.com by clicking here.
Pool 2: Dominican Republic 3, United States 1 (Thursday, March 14)
We might as well start with the biggest game of the event so far. United States closer Craig Kimbrel, who gave up two runs in the ninth inning after not allowing more than one in any game last season, said after the game (via ESPN.com) that the game felt "like October, not March."
This was the matchup everyone had circled on their calendar. The Dominican Republic and United States are the two best teams on paper in this event. Both have the star power to bring in casual fans, and the game certainly delivered.
The U.S. took an early 1-0 lead on a bases loaded walk by Eric Hosmer in the first inning. Hanley Ramirez's home run off R.A. Dickey in the top of the second tied things up 1-1. It would stay that way until the ninth inning.
By winning this game, the Dominican Republic took control of Pool 2, locked up its spot in the Championship Round and proved one more time it is the team to beat in the World Baseball Classic.
Pool 1: Japan 16, Netherlands 4 (Sunday, March 10)
If the Dominican Republic is the No. 1 team in this tournament, Japan has made a compelling case to be at least No. 2, if not 1A. It took a few games for everything to click, but when it did, it really worked.
It's true that Netherlands doesn't have any pitching depth, which likely made Japan's offense look better than it really is, but you don't churn out 17 hits, 16 runs and six home runs all by accident.
Japan proved it wasn't a fluke by scoring 10 runs against Netherlands in the final game of Pool 1, when both teams had already secured their spots in the Championship Round.
But it was this game where Japan went from second-tier contender to standing right alongside the big boys of the event. Japan's offense was more methodical than dominant in Pool A, but as this team has advanced, everything has started to click.
Pool 1: Netherlands 7, Cuba 6 (Monday, March 11)
Cuba powered its way through the first round-and-a-half of this event. It was clear that the Cuban team and Japan would be the teams to come out of Pool 1 and make it to the Championship Round.
A funny thing happened along the way, as the Netherlands found just enough pitching and its high-powered offense came to life at the end of the game to procure a walk-off victory on Kalian Sams' sacrifice fly.
The whole inning was set up by Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gurriel's error on an Andruw Jones chopper. All told, there were five runs scored by both teams in the eighth and ninth inning.
Cuba looked like it was back in control after scoring twice in the top of the eighth to take a 6-4 lead. Andrelton Simmons' two-run homer in the bottom half of the inning gave the Netherlands life one more time, and then the sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth won the game.
It was the second time the Netherlands defeated Cuba in this round, but this was the game that gave hope to the country that it could be a factor in the Championship Round.
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