(Reuters) - The Netherlands maintained their mastery over power-hitting Cuba by claiming a 7-6, walk-off win at the Tokyo Dome on Monday to advance to the semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic.
The Dutch tied the game on a two-run homer in the eighth inning by Andrelton Simmons and won the elimination game on a sacrifice fly from Kalian Sams in the bottom of the ninth.
Winning the showdown allowed the Netherlands to join Japan at San Francisco's AT&T Park for the semi-finals starting on March 17. The Unites States, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Italy begin battling for the other semi-final spots on Tuesday in Miami.
A victory for 2006 finalists Cuba, who like the Netherlands had been 1-1 in the second round, would have put them into the championship round.
The Dutch also beat Cuba in the opening game of second-round play and defeated the Cubans twice in winning the Baseball World Cup in 2011.
"It's true," Cuban manager Victor Mesa said through a translator. "We cannot beat the Netherlands."
Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens, batting coach for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, called Monday's victory the best game ever for the national team.
"I can look back to two historic days before this one," said Meulens, whose team was without starting outfielders Roger Bernadina and Wladimir Balentien and third baseman Yurendell DeCaster due to injury.
"One of them I was a part of, beating the Cubans at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The other one was becoming world champions for the first time in the history of Dutch baseball in 2011, against Cuba, in Panama.
"This is the number one best game that the Dutch have ever played. Coming from behind, tying the game up and taking the game in the bottom of the ninth. This game will go down as the biggest game in Dutch history ... so far."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)