Commentary

U.S. bounces back, dispatches Dutch

Updated: March 16, 2009, 3:29 AM ET
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Leon Boyd was on the top step of the dugout before his final game in the World Baseball Classic. Only a few people were within earshot of the Netherlands' dugout when he glanced at Team USA taking batting practice and cracked a joke.

"Who are these guys?" Boyd said.

David Bergman, a catcher on the Dutch roster, didn't hesitate.

"They play in some league in the states," he said. "Get paid a lot of money for it too."

Boyd and Bergman had a sense of humor as they entered Sunday night's elimination game against Team USA, which the Netherlands lost 9-3, ending its run at this WBC.

That sense of humor, though, was all but gone by the eighth inning, when the benches almost cleared after U.S. pitcher Matt Lindstrom -- upset by how long Bryan Engelhardt admired his solo homer to start the inning -- blatantly threw the next pitch behind Vince Rooi. The Netherlands team was incensed, and the umpires had to calm the players down and convince them to go back into the dugout.

"I thought that was classless," Netherlands manager Rod Delmonico said.

The game eventually ended and the Americans did what they were supposed to: beat a team few ever imagined would even be in the second round of this WBC. While there was drama Sunday, what lies ahead for Team USA should be the larger concern. The U.S. will have a day off before facing the winner of Monday night's game between Puerto Rico and Venezuela. But Team USA already is an infielder short after Chipper Jones withdrew from the tournament before Sunday's game because of an oblique strain. Then, Lindstrom left with a sore shoulder and Ryan Braun also was removed because of a sore side.

[+] EnlargeUS Vs. Netherlands
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesThings got a little testy late in Sunday's WBC game between the Netherlands and Team USA.

Both Lindstrom and Braun said they think the injuries are minor, but so did Jones and Dustin Pedroia, who are now no longer with the team. The roster madness prompted manager Davey Johnson to ask catcher Brian McCann to play left field in the bottom of the ninth inning. When Mark DeRosa, who was playing third base, saw McCann running past him, he did a double-take. McCann said it was his first appearance at any other position than catcher in his professional career. "[Johnson] obviously wanted to see my athleticism," McCann quipped.

While the Americans made pregame news with Jones' injury, the Netherlands team also had its own headline. Delmonico planned on playing the game under protest. Delmonico apparently had not been informed that the Americans had replaced their second baseman the day before, and felt it was a violation of WBC roster rules.

When Team USA announced Brian Roberts would replace Pedroia on Saturday, it did so just minutes before its opening game in Round 2. Delmonico's argument was that pool play began earlier that day when Game 1 started, and that roster changes were no longer allowed.

"When does the Final Four start?" Delmonico said. "The first game; it's not when the next two teams play. I don't understand the ruling, but I am an Italian so maybe there's some confusion between the meatballs and the pasta. I don't know."

The dilemma pointed to an issue within official WBC rules: There is no exact deadline for when rosters must be set. Having an exact time would have eliminated any confusion. So Delmonico informed baseball officials he was planning an official protest, but one was never officially filed, according to Rob Manfred, baseball's vice president of labor relations.

Delmonico said his interpretation of the rules differed from that of the WBC rules committee.

Team USA general manager Bob Watson confirmed to ESPN.com before the game that the Americans were anticipating a protest.

"We wouldn't have done [the roster move] if we couldn't have done it by the book," Watson said.

Brian Roberts
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyBrian Roberts' addition to the Team USA roster didn't sit well with the Netherlands.

Delmonico said his issues with the protest had no impact on the game's outcome.

"It would have been different if we lost by two runs and Brian [Roberts] would have gone 3-for-3 and scored two runs," he said. "It didn't factor in; they just beat us."

That they did, and now Team USA will wait for the winner of Monday's game. It has a day to fully determine the extent of its current injuries, but regardless, it is not permitted any more roster moves until the next round.

"We're just going to have to play with what we got," Johnson said.

The tournament is now over for the Dutch, which made an impressive run that included beating the mighty Dominican Republic twice to make it to Miami. Their run of success didn't continue Sunday, but the players said they were relishing the experience.

Just minutes before the national anthems, a few players had their pictures taken with Derek Jeter in the tunnel outside the team clubhouses. And they spoke of how their accomplishments were helping build baseball back in Holland, which easily favors soccer over any other sport. In fact, the country's leading paper, The Telegraph, had a reporter with the team until Saturday, when he flew back to cover a speed skating event.

"Speed skating is big in the winter," Dutch general manager Robert Eenhoorn said.

So maybe soccer and speed skating trump the Americans' national pastime, but that didn't temper the players' enthusiasm for what they had accomplished.

"I had a lot of joy over here," catcher Sidney de Jong said. "We beat the Dominicans twice; that was awesome. We put the Netherlands on the map baseball-wise and I think that's a great achievement."

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at amy.k.nelson@espn3.com.

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