The Netherlands snatched a game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to earn a nail-biting upset win over Cuba and their first ever spot in the World Baseball Classic final series on Monday.
The unfancied Dutch looked down and out at 4-6 in the eighth inning, but Andrelton Simmons levelled the scores with a two-run homer. At 6-6 in the ninth, Kalian Sams hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded to take the dramatic win.
The Netherlands have now secured a berth in the championship semi-finals in San Francisco, after crashing out in the first stage in 2006 and the second round in 2009.
Meanwhile Cuba, the 2006 finalists and one of the pre-tournament favourites, head home wondering how they let victory slip through their fingers at Tokyo Dome.
The Netherlands had made most of the running, with a sacrifice fly by Andruw Jones earning them an early 1-0 lead before Smith hit a single to get a second-base runner back home for 2-0 in the bottom of the third.
But Cuba evened the score at 2-2 in the fourth inning through Jose Fernandez's single and a solo home run by Alfredo Despaigne.
Simmons gave the Netherlands a 3-2 lead by hitting a sacrifice fly to the left, and a Cuban error gave them another run for 4-2. However Yulieski Gourriel's double again allowed Cuba to even the scores 4-4 in the fifth.
As tensions rose, Cuba then went ahead for the first time 6-4 in the eighth through Yasmany Tomas's single and Eriel Sanchez's sacrifice fly. But the Netherlands tied it once again thanks to Simmons' two-run homer under pressure.
And in the ninth, Jones took the first base on a Cuban error and then Curt Smith and Xander Bogaerts connected two singles for full bases, before Sams hit a fly to the centre field, sparking jubilation in the Netherlands dugout.
The Netherlands will now play two-time defending champions Japan, who have also qualified, on Tuesday to determine their seeding for the four-team showdown in San Francisco later this month.