Neuman lifts Curacao to consolation victory
Two teams met at high noon on Sunday with two objectives – playing their best and having fun.
The latter has never been hard for the boys from Willemstad, Curacao, who sang, laughed and danced their way around the Little League complex this week. But the Caribbean champs from the Pariba Little League reminded the fans at Howard J. Lamade Stadium why they belong in Williamsport, waltzing to an impressive 9-1 win over Worcester, Mass., in the consolation game.
Curacao claimed third place for the second straight year. It lost by the same score in last year’s consolation game, but was later awarded the victory after Bronx, N.Y., was disqualified.
“Last year we didn’t know we were playing for a third place flag and we knew that this year, so we threw our best nine out there,” Curacao’s pitching coach Vergilly Winklar said. “The guys wanted to go home with a win.”
That much was clear in manager Mark Van Zanten’s pitching choice – ace Dennis Neuman. The powerful right-hander dominated the game from its onset, finishing with a complete game four-hitter.
Until the fifth inning, the lone chink in Neuman’s armor had been Matt Ball’s single in the third inning. The ultra-superstitious hurler who wears two pairs of underwear and cleans his cleats before games needed no luck on Sunday.
Neuman kept his composure in the fifth after Worcester filled the bases with no outs. He fanned slugger Frank Flynn, and then started a 1-2-3 double play on Kurt Sabacinski’s softly hit grounder. He was one strike away from a shutout before a wild pitch and a throwing error brought home Worcester’s Ryan Griffin.
“The catcher and I got confused on that play,” Neuman said through an interpreter. “The coach asked for a fastball, but the catcher thought it was a curveball, so he didn’t react to it and it went to the backstop.”
Although he finished up as one of the Series’ most impressive hurlers, Neuman does not anticipate much renown when he returns home to the island.
“I’m not going to feel that great because all my friends don’t like baseball,” he said through an interpreter.
Curacao came out swinging, belting four hits and scoring four runs in the first frame. A bases-loaded double by third baseman Richently Kenepa brought in Neuman and Hairo Polonius, and a single by Rodien Genaro plated two more runs.
The Caribbean champs tacked on two more in the third, as a one-out double by Reinus Roosberg brought in Steve Van Delden and Neuman. For Roosberg, Curacao’s starting pitcher on Saturday, the consolation game brought redemption.
“After last game we talked to the guys, explained how proud we are for what they did,” Van Zanten said through an interpreter. “We’re glad he came back and had a good game today.”
Worcester stopped the bleeding in the third, as Griffin escaped a bases-loaded jam with two line outs and a grounder to second base.
Ever the maestro of relaxation, Van Zanten kept things cool between innings, gathering his troops in a circle and flipping his cap from his mouth to his head.
But Granger matched Van Zanten’s lightheartedness on his lineup card, starting 4-foot-4 Andy Fallon on the mound.
“He would have shut them out,” said Granger, who pulled Fallon after the first inning in favor of Griffin. “We should have got out of there 1-0, but he enjoyed it.”
Both teams are planning to watch the World Series championship Sunday at 6:30 p.m., at Lamade Stadium. But with a 2 a.m. departure and a lengthy day of traveling ahead, Curacao’s coaches are keeping the boys close by.
“They still have to pack, and they bought a lot of stuff here,” Winklar said with a smile.