There's been a lot of talk these last two days about the World Baseball Classic, its relevance and its class of competition. But even the naysayers will have to admit that Thursday's batch of games were exciting.
From Italy's upset of Mexico to the Dominican Republic's display of dominance to the continued success of the young Netherlands squad — Thursday's action was legit. Let's have a closer look:
Netherlands 6, Cuba 2: The Netherlands are doing it again — surprising people in the WBC. Opening second round play in Tokyo, the heroes of Honkbal mashed past powerful Cuba and now finds themselves one win away from advancing to San Francisco for the final round.
Jonathan Schoop, a Baltimore Orioles prospect, had three hits and four RBI, including a three-run homer. Young Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons also had two hits and scored two runs. Cuba was the only undefeated team from the first two pools, but no more. Netherlands now plays the winner of Japan vs. Chinese Taipei (an early, early Friday morning game, 5 a.m. ET) on Sunday.
Dominican Republic 9, Venezuela 3: In a clash of two tournament powers in the Pool C opener, Dominican Republic proved it's a dangerous, dangerous team. Jose Reyes was 4-for-5, Robinson Cano had three hits and three RBI and Hanley Ramirez homered while Venezuelan stud Miguel Cabrera went 0-for-4.
The Dominican Republic scored three immediate runs off Anibal Sanchez, who lasted only a third of an inning once rain halted the game.
Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown has more on the Dominican dominance and how the team is hungry to avenge a dismal showing in the 2009 WBC.
Italy 6, Mexico 5: A game that at times looked like a minor-league contest, gave us the day's most exciting conclusion. Mexico's bullpen, led by San Francisco Giants closer Sergio Romo, blew a ninth-inning lead and Italy did what no one imagined it would. It won.
It's not really fair to hang the loss on Romo. Edgar Gonzalez, an infielder by trade, was playing left field and missed two balls that a native outfielder probably would have gotten — particularly the go-ahead play, where Gonzalez fumbled an Anthony Rizzo fly ball. Here's the footage, if you haven't seen it yet.
Mexico had a chance to comeback in the bottom of the ninth, and almost did. Its biggest bat came to the plate, Adrian Gonzalez, looking to redeem Edgar, his older brother. Gonzalez was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Mexico couldn't muster the tying run off Italy closer Jason Grilli.
LOOKING AHEAD TO FRIDAY
• Defending champion Japan plays Chinese Taipei (5 a.m. ET). The winner advances to play Netherlands. Both teams are 2-1 in the tournament so far.
• Italy looks for another upset when it plays Canada in Pool D play (2 p.m. ET). It's Canada's first game.
• Hosts Puerto Rico open their portion of Pool C play against Spain (5:30 p.m. ET). Here's Tim Brown on what a strong showing by Puerto Rico would mean for baseball there.
• Team USA sees its first WBC action, facing its neighbors to the south, Mexico (9 p.m. ET). It's a must-win for Mexico, which faces reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.