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2023 World Baseball Classic Day 5: Colombia takes down Mexico

Japan and Puerto Rico dominated, the Netherlands suffered their first lost, and Colombia upset Mexico in a thriller.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Eight international baseball games! In one day! So many that we need not one but TWO recaps! The early slate of games was light on close competition — for the most part — but when things got tense, they got really tense, and now, we’re set up nicely for a wide-open last few days of pool play as teams jostle for position in the next round. Let’s start with the action that occurred in the wee hours of the morning here in the States:

Pool B: Japan (3-0) 10, Czech Republic (1-1) 2

Chalk one up for the pepper grinder: Barely 24 hours after thrashing their biggest competition in pool play, Japan continued to look like the team to beat in the tournament, all but punching their ticket to the next round with a 10-2 victory over the Czech Republic that looked for a few innings as if it might be close before the Japanese offense clicked.

The headliner, of course, was Japanese starter Rōki Sasaki, the 21-year-old phenom on pace to be perhaps the most talented and highly-anticipated international pitching prospect MLB has ever seen. Pitching on what’s sure to have been an emotional day for the Japanese team — yesterday was the 12th anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in which more than 20,000 people lost their lives, including several members of Sasaki’s family — the Czech Republic managed to strike first, putting an unearned run on Sasaki’s line after three-hitter Marek Chlup doubled and subsequently scored on a throwing error by shortstop Takumu Nakano.

After that, however, the right-handed virtuoso settled into good (if not quite peak) form, walking two and allowing an additional hit but with a whopping eight strikeouts in just 3.2 innings. The Czech Republic’s offense was simply unable to generate any kind of quality contact against Sasaki’s high-90s fastball and bevy of patently unfair secondary pitches.

Japan’s offense broke the game open with three runs in the third and four more in the fourth, powered by a smattering of hits from more or less the entire lineup: New Red Sox outfield Masataka Yoshida led the charge with three runs driven in, with the other seven evenly distributed among seven other hitters. Left-hander Hiroya Miyagi kept their bullpen fresh for the next round, finishing things off with five scoreless innings that required just 68 total pitches.

Pool A: Netherlands (2-1) 5, Chinese Taipei (2-1) 9

The Pool of Utter Chaos creeps closer and closer to the “everybody finishes 2-2” result that we can only dream of, as Chinese Taipei rode an utterly electric home crowd and a Yu Chang grand slam to their second consecutive victory, handing the Dutch their first loss of the tournament.

Starter Lars Huijer, a 2011 signee of the Seattle Mariners who topped out in High-A back in 2014, simply couldn’t pitch competitively against a CT lineup that seems to be finding a groove after being upset by Panama in their opening match. Though the Netherlands struck first, opening the game with three first-inning singles, they failed to take full advantage of multiple errors from typically-solid catcher Kungkuan Giljegiljaw (pronounced gi-li-ji-lao), scoring just one run in the frame. But Huijer couldn’t command the ball the way he wanted to; he managed to work around two first inning walks, but was forced from the game after loading the bases with a single, a hit-by-pitch, and a third base on balls before Chang did the honor of clearing them.

Chinese Taipei tacked on two more runs in the third and one more in the fourth, essentially putting the game away save for a few garbage-time runs on the Dutch side. Taiwanese pitcher Che-Yuan Wu did the majority of the legwork for the home side, throwing 4.1 innings of scoreless relief, allowing just one hit and striking out four. Xander Bogaerts struck out three time for the visitors; Sir Didi Gregorius drove in two of their five runs.

Pool D: Puerto Rico (1-0) 9, Nicaragua (0-1) 1

Finally seeing their first action of the tournament, a loaded Puerto Rican team spent five innings going toe-to-toe with a pesky underdog Nicaraguan squad before breaking it open with a five-run fifth, ultimately winning by a lopsided score of 9-1.

Marcus Stroman worked into the fifth inning for Puerto Rico, but the game was still very much a toss-up at his departure, when a home run from Elian Miranda tied the game at one and shifted the pressure to the heavy favorites. The momentum was in Nicaragua’s favor, but after a called ball on what looked to be a strike three to Christian Vázquez turned into a walk, things completely unraveled. Four consecutive singles and a groundout later, it was a 5-1 lead for the favorites, and they never looked back.

Vázquez and young Kansas City centerpieces M.J. Melendez and Emmanuel Rivera finished with two runs batted in each, while Javier Báez, Francisco Lindor, and Martín Maldonado all tallied two hits. After Stroman, five Puerto Rican pitchers combined to allow just two hits over the final 4.1 innings, striking out eight along the way.

Pool C: Colombia (1-0) 5, Mexico (0-1) 4

Considered a dark horse by many, a talented Mexico roster mounted multiple comebacks this afternoon but couldn’t quite finish the job, falling to Colombia 5-4 in 10 innings in what might have been the group stage’s most thrilling match yet.

Mexico drew first blood with singles from Joey Meneses and Isaac Paredes in the fourth inning, but Colombia wasted no time coming back with a three-spot in the subsequent half-inning, ambushing Julio Urías with back-to-back doubles to lead off the innings before Mexican League star Reynaldo Rodríguez cleared the bases with a towering home run into the left field corner. Rodríguez, who last appeared in affiliated ball with the Twins organization in 2016, came up clutch all game for the Colombian side, once again giving them the lead with an RBI single in the seventh just an inning after a two-run moonshot from Randy Arozarena knotted things at three.

Cincinnati reliever Reiver Sanmartín couldn’t quite hold them off, however, as Mexico responded with three singles in their half of the seventh to tie things at four an ultimately send them to extra innings. They may have worked around the Manfred runner unscathed were it not for an error by third basemen Luis Urías, completing quite the subpar day for Mexican ballplayers named Urías. After sending the game to extras with a scoreless ninth, Rangers farmhand Guillermo Zuñiga shut the door for Colombia with a scoreless tenth.

My colleague Peter will cover the rest of Saturday’s action in a little while, but before we go, take a look at what’s in store for us today. If you’re up early, make sure you watch Italy/Netherlands since that’s the final game of Pool A and if the Dutch win, they’ll advance to the quarterfinals. But if Italy takes it, then everyone in Pool A has a 2-2 record and we have some weird tiebreakers to consider!

Today at the WBC:

Japan vs. Australia
Time: 6:00 a.m. EST
Venue: Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan

Italy vs. Netherlands
Time: 7:00 a.m. EST
Venue: Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium, Taichung, Taiwan

Nicaragua vs. Israel
Time: 12:00 p.m. EST
Venue: loanDepot Park, Miami, Florida, USA

Great Britain vs. Canada
Time: 3:00 p.m. EST
Venue: Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico
Time: 7:00 p.m. EST
Venue: loanDepot Park, Miami, Florida, USA

Mexico vs. United States
Time: 10:00 p.m. EST
Venue: Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Australia vs. Czech Republic
Time: 11:00 p.m. EST
Venue: Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan