Robinsón Canó hit a home run and Dominican Republic skipper Tony Peña pushed all the right buttons in managing his pitching staff, and the Dominicans beat Puerto Rico 4-3 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan. Neither team had a lead larger than two at any point, and only one inning featured multiple runs scored. Both teams advance to the second round of the World Baseball Classic in Miami, with the Dominicans taking the higher seed.
The visitors took the lead in the first. Erick Aybar reached on an infield single that deflected off Puerto Rican first baseman Martín Maldonaldo. Canó stroked a one-base hit to centre and Edwin Encarnación plated Aybar with the game’s first run. Orlando Román would bear down on the next three hitters, getting out of the jam without allowing another run to score.
Neither team would threaten until the bottom of the fourth when Álex Ríos rapped a safety off Wandy Rodríguez to lead off the inning. One batter later, Mike Aviles took the first pitch he saw from reliever Lorenzo Barcelo into the left centre field seats to give Puerto Rico a 2-1 lead.
Canó, who was named Most Valuable Player in the pool at the game’s conclusion, equalled Aviles’ feat, ripping a dinger to left centre to start the fifth. The Dominican Republic would not score again in the inning, but the host’s lead was quickly erased.
After a 1-2-3 inning by Barcelo, the Dominicans grabbed the lead. Carlos Santana hit a single down the left field line and moved over on a sacrifice. Alejandro de Aza, who reached base in all three of his plate appearances, struck a double to the wall in centre that nearly gave the visitors a two-run advantage. Santana scampered home on the play to make it 3-2.
Barcelo and Octavio Dotel split the bottom of the sixth, working around a hit and an error. Dotel got a double play to end the frame, and the Dominicans once more set to work.
Edwin Encarnación was plunked to start the seventh and Miguel Tejada followed him with a long fly ball to left field. Encarnación had to wait at third when the ball bounced over the wall, but Tejada had a ground rule double. Nelson Cruz plated the lead runner with a groundball and an intentional walk to Carlos Santana and a wild pitch put runners on the corners.
Xavier Cedeño, who earned the save in Puerto Rico’s first win, struck out the final batter in the inning to keep the margin at 4-2.
Pena’s relief hurlers would prevent the Puerto Ricans from gaining any momentum on offence. Dotel pitched the seventh with a strikeout and Cedeño got a three-up, three-down inning in the eighth.
Puerto Rico missed drawing even by about five feet in the bottom of the eighth. Ángel Pagán smoked a ball to left centre, turning on the wheels to leg out a triple to start the frame against San Francisco Giants’ teammate Santiago Casilla.
Casilla buckled down against the 2-3-4 hitters for Puerto Rico, striking out Irving Falu on a combination of fastballs and a nasty curveball, which had Falu whiffing on a 3-2 count. Casilla had another six-pitch at bat against Ríos, striking him out looking.
With two outs and Pagán still on third, Carlos Beltrán, Puerto Rico’s cleanup hitter, stepped up, and put a charge in the first pitch he saw. The ball sailed to dead centre, but fell to centerfielder Eury Pérez just in front of the wall.
Randy Fontanez gave up two hits to the Dominicans in the ninth, but the visitors held the momentum and the advantage after Pérez’s heartbreaking catch. Peña turned to closer Fernando Rodney for the bottom of the ninth, and the Tampa Bay Rays’ closer got his second save of the Classic with a 1-2-3 final frame.
Canó had his third-straight three-hit game, keeping hit batting average at .600 in the 2013 Classic. Aybar, Encarnación, and Tejada all collected a hitting brace for the victors, who had all four runs scored by different players. The team left 11 men on base and hit .167 with runners in scoring position, but took advantage of its three extra-base hits.
Aviles was the only Puerto Rican with multiple hits or RBIs, notching two of each. With the exception of Aviles’ blow, Dominican pitching kept their Caribbean neighbours from ever getting a rally going, giving up seven hits and one walk, but getting two double plays and seven strikeouts.
Barcelo earned the win for the Dominican Republic and allowed a run on two hits in two frames. Rodríguez had a solid start, scattering four baserunners over 3 1/3 with two strikeouts. Pena’s ‘pen surrendered only one run and four hits in 5 2/3 frames.
Román started for Puerto Rico and was one out shy of four full frames. He gave up five hits, a walk, and a run, whiffing two. José Berrios, only 18, took the loss after coughing up two runs on three hits and a base on balls.
The defeat dropped Puerto Rico to 9-3 in Hiram Bithorn in World Baseball Classic play, making the Dominicans one of three nations to beat them on their home turf. No. 12 Puerto Rico will have to face the United States, ranked second in the world, to start round two. The matchup between the only nation to field two teams in the WBC occurs on Mar. 13 at 1 a.m. GMT. The Dominican Republic, rated No. 13, will contest ninth-ranked Italy on Mar. 12 at 6 p.m. GMT.
Stay tuned for the second round as the Classic has only seven teams remaining. You can find all your news, recaps, and analysis right here for the remainder of the 2013 WBC.