Andruw Jones scores winning run as Netherlands knocks Cuba out of WBC

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Everyone who woke up early this morning to watch MLB Network got to see a helluva game, as the Netherlands advanced to the semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic and knocked Cuba out of the tournament with a 7-6 walk-off win.

Facing a 6-4 deficit in the eighth inning, 23-year-old Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons smacked a two-run homer for the Netherlands that sent the game into the ninth inning tied. From there Andruw Jones reached base on a fielding error by Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gurriel and then scored the game-winning run on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Kalian Sams, a 26-year-old outfielder who spent last season playing at Double-A for the Mariners.

The victory was probably extra sweet for the Netherlands, because after they defeated Cuba for the first time in a 6-2 game last week Cuban manager Victor Mesa said: “I don’t think they’re a very good team, to be honest. I think we could’ve scored more. I think we should’ve scored four or five more runs.”

Not sure what that says about Mesa’s team, but either way Cuba and their micro-managing skipper are going home and the Netherlands are going to San Francisco for the semi-finals. They join Japan in the Final Four and await the top two teams from among the United States, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Italy.

Mariners sign Ichiro to a minor league deal

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USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Mariners will sign Ichiro Suzuki to a minor-league deal. If he makes the roster he’ll make $750,000. At least until he retires.

I say that because it seems quite clear that the idea here, telegraphed since last season, is to activate Ichiro for the Mariners’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on March 20-21 and for hoopla surrounding it all. The Mariners and A’s will have a 28-man roster for that series, which is officially part of the regular season schedule, but it will be pared back down to 25 once games begin in the United States.

Suzuki, 45, hit .205/.255/.205 in 47 plate appearances through May 2 last season, at which point he agreed to be deactivated to join the Mariners’ front office. Many assumed Ichiro would announce his retirement later that season or during the offseason, but the Japan Series soon crystalized as an obvious way for him to offer his final farewell to both his American and his Japanese fans.

Unless of course he goes 6-10 with three doubles in that series, at which point everyone will be tempted to keep him on the roster past Japan. Which, given the Mariners’ rebuild and likely poor performance this coming season, wouldn’t exactly be hurting anyone, would it?