Baseball: Netherlands' NPB stars eye Japan rematch in WBC final

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The Netherlands is hoping for a rematch with Japan in the final of the World Baseball Classic after the two teams advanced to the semifinals of the tournament as the top two finishers in second-round Pool E.

"We played a great game the other day," said Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien on Thursday, referring to the Netherland's 8-6 loss to Japan in 11 innings on Sunday at Tokyo Dome. "We ended up losing and everybody was hurt because we played a good game."

During the game, Balentien hit a two-run homer in the third inning to draw 5-5. With Japan leading 6-5, he had the opportunity to tie it again in the seventh but struck out swinging against his Yakult teammate Ryo Akiyoshi, and hoped to have another chance of going head to head.

"It was a nice battle," the outfielder said. "He threw very well, he made a good pitch at a 2-2 count and I missed but that's part of the game -- sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I hope I have another chance to face him and win."

Pool E winner Japan and the Netherlands, the runner-up, will play in each of the two WBC semifinals next week in Los Angeles against the top two finishers in Pool F. So if both teams win, they will meet in the final.

"It'll be great to face them again," Balentien said. "I can face my teammates (infielder Tetsuto) Yamada and Akiyoshi and hope we can win the tournament."

The 32-year-old was named the MVP for Pool E with three home runs, two coming in back-to-back at-bats against Cuba on Wednesday when the Dutch overwhelmed their opponent 14-1 for a seven-inning mercy-rule win that gave them their second victory in the group.

"I feel very good and happy. I think this award shows to all the Japanese fans here that their support made me feel comfortable," said the Dutch cleanup hitter with an NPB record of 60 home runs a season in 2013.

For the WBC final round, Dutch manager Hensley Meulens added Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to its roster, but the starting burden in the semifinals will again likely be on SoftBank Hawks pitcher Rick van den Hurk's shoulders.

On Sunday, the right-hander allowed five runs in three innings and did not have the chance to face his teammates Nobuhiro Matsuda or Seiichi Uchikawa, who were not in the starting lineup of what turned out to be a nearly five-hour encounter.

"It's always a challenge to pitch to those guys. They are my teammates and it'll be fun finding a way to get them out," van den Hurk said.

"I think I picked some things that I can improve and do better from last game, mixing my pitches and using fastballs more to my advantage. I got away from that a little bit last game but you learn and move on."

==Kyodo

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