The World Baseball Classic now has a legitimate darkhorse threat in Chinese Taipei.
It also has a legit darkhorse hero candidate in Yu Chang.
With Chang’s immense help, the hosts of Taichung-based Group A rudely pulled the rug out from under Netherlands’ plans to dominate the group Saturday, delivering a 9-5 upset. The surprisingly one-sided outcome oddly advantages both teams, who are now tied at 2-1, each with one game remaining against lesser teams.
If both win those games, both advance.
Netherlands, with decidedly the more experienced lineup, entered Saturday’s game looking to lock up its own advancement. A quick first-inning run, fueled by hits off the bats of Jurickson Profar and Didi Gregorius, enhanced that hope.
But Taipei sprung an ambush in the form of a five-run second inning that swapped momentum for the entire evening. Taipei loaded the bases on a hit, a walk and a hit batter, then free agent Li Lin lined a single up the middle scoring the tying run.
One out later, infielder Chang — a Red Sox free agent signee who saw brief service with four major league teams last season — poled a grand slam into the recesses of deep center field, shooting Taipei to a stunning 5-1 lead.
It was the second big-time moment in two nights for Chang. His sixth inning home run Friday had erased a 7-5 Italy lead and propelled Taipei to an eventual 11-7 victory. Chang is batting .500 for the tournament.
The hosts added two more runs in the third and by the fourth had built an 8-2 margin, which a succession of pitchers made stand up.
The more experienced Netherlands offense did little. Xander Bogaerts was hitless, as were Profar and Gregorius after their first-inning singles. Another MLB veteran, Jonathan Schoop, also failed to produce. The combined efforts of those four current major leaguers amounted to the pair of first inning singles in 13 official at-bats.