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September 20, 2017

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Surprise Dutch treat in World Baseball Classic

SAN FRANCISCO -- It has been all or nothing for the underdog Netherlands national team at the World Baseball Classic.

The Dutch have been the fairy-tale success story of the 2013 tournament, beating the odds by advancing to the semifinals where they will face the Dominican Republic on Monday for a chance to play for the championship.

"We are turning heads," said Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens during practice on Saturday at the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants' home ballpark, where the last games will be played.

"It will be a very special thing for the Netherlands," Meulens said. "It is a soccer-based country and for the first time the biggest TV stations have come out to cover us in the middle of the soccer season in the Netherlands.

"They can't believe that we are getting this far but that's fine.

"They are getting used to us getting better."

In the 2006 Classic, pitcher Shairon Martis no-hit Panama to give the Netherlands a 10-0 win in a mercy rule-shortened game. It was their only win of that tournament.

In 2009, the Netherlands advanced to the second round after they defeated the Dominican Republic twice in dramatic fashion.

"The first Classic we won only one game. It was a no-hitter. The only no-hitter in Classic history so far," said Meulens.

"The second Classic we beat the Dominicans twice to get into the second round and now we are going into the semifinals.

"So we have done a little bit better each Classic. We've gotten better with great players."

Meulens expects to see a much-improved Dominican team this time around.

"It is a different team. They are undefeated," he said. "They have played very, very well. We are going to have to play a good game, play great defense and get some offense.

"We can't make mistakes against them. Pitching is going to be critical for us. Keep the ball down, keep them from hitting the ball in the air and out of the ballpark."

The Netherlands is the all-time leader in European Championship titles, with 20 overall and five of the last seven. They finished in fourth place in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and are assured of at least fourth in this event.

Some Dutch players are from the Netherlands Antilles, where baseball is more popular than in Europe. But Meulens stressed the players are united in their effort to bring home a title.

"This is the best team that we can assemble to keep everybody together and keep it going this way," Meulens said. "We are all Dutch. We have all Dutch passports and this is the best way to have the strongest team."

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