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Mar '13 10

WBC 2013: Puerto Ricans, Dominicans Join Italy in Round Two

By Gabriel Fidler (@gabrielfidler)

Saturday was a busy day for World Baseball Classic action in the North American pools, with three close games and another marked by a nasty altercation. Italy was the first team to qualify for the second round following a surprise drubbing of Canada on Friday, and was joined by two more teams on Saturday. By virtue of their 2-0 records, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic advanced to the second round. The seeding for the bracket and the fourth team were all revealed in Sunday’s action.

Below is a brief recap of all four games. For a more in-depth analysis, check out Extra Innings’ archives for Saturday’s games.

Dominican Republic 6, Spain 3
Box Score

Robinsón Canó had his second consecutive three-hit game and Samuel Deduno hurled four shutout innings to lead the Dominican Republic over a scrappy Spain, 6-3. The win put the Dominican Republic in the driver’s seat in Pool C, while it was the second loss for Spain.

Deduno and Yoanner Negrin got off to a strong start with 1-2-3 first innings, but the Dominicans jumped on Spain’s hurler in the second. Nelson Cruz capitalised on a leadoff walk to Edwin Encarnación with a RBI-single and Ricardo Nanita drove Cruz home later in the inning for a 2-0 lead.

Negrin was knocked out of the game in the third after three walks and a run-scoring double by Canó, but Nick Schumacher could do no better in relief. The right-hander gave another RBI-hit to Cruz and Carlos Santana plated the Dominicans’ fifth run with a ground ball.

Alfredo Simón picked up where Deduno left off, although Spain reached him for a run in the seventh. In that inning, Salomón Manriquez walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Éngel Béltre bunted his way aboard, but Canó misfielded the ball and Manriquez scored from second. It was one of three hits that Simón gave up, and he struck out three while walking two.

The final two frames produced some tense moments for both sides. The Houston Astros’ Rhiner Cruz gave up a solo home run to Carlos Santana in the eighth, making it 6-1, and the Dominicans put two runners on in the ninth. A big strikeout of Santana by Iván Granados ended the threat, and it appeared that the Dominican Republic would win easily.

In the bottom of the ninth, José Veras hit Manriquez, but sandwiched the plunking with two strikeouts. Spain was not quite finished, though, as Béltre singled to right and Yasser Gómez drove in a run with another safety. Veras hit another batter and, with the bases loaded, manager Tony Peña paid Spain the compliment of inserting his closer, Fernando Rodney, who earned the save.

Canada 10, México 3
Box Score

In a game that was marred by a benches-clearing brawl, Canada broke out the bats and blasted México, 10-3. Justin Morneau and Michael Saunders tied a World Baseball Classic record with four hits apiece and Chris Leroux gave the Canadians a strong start and the team’s first win in the WBC’s opening round.

After the embarrassment of a shelling by Italy, the Canadians took out their frustrations on Marco Estrada. The right-hander had a strong 2012 season for the Milwaukee Brewers and was considered pivotal to México’s chances.

Instead, he was greeted with a barrage of hits, as Canada teed off Estrada for five straight base knocks with one out in the first. Taylor Green and Joey Votto started with singles and Justin Morneau plated Green with a double. Michael Saunders collected two RBI on a one-base hit and Chris Robinson finished the four-run rally with a line drive that plated Saunders.

With a 4-1 lead, Karim García and Édgar González singled to lead off the fourth, and Sebastian Valle followed with another one-base hit. The bloop single was fielded by Canada’s Tyson Gillies in centre, who uncorked a strong throw to catcher Chris Robinson. The well-built García barrelled into Canada’s backstop, but Robinson held on for the out.

México was not finished in the inning, though. Gil Velásquez stroked a double to score González and Eduardo Arredondo plated a second run for México with a sacrifice fly.

In the seventh, Green walked to start the frame and Morneau ripped a run-scoring double with one out. Morneau would later score on a groundout by the hero of the WBC qualifying round, Jimmy Van Ostrand.

Robinson bunted his way aboard to lead off the ninth. He placed a beautiful ball down the third base line, raising the ire of third baseman Luís Cruz, who was not expecting the play.

It appeared that Cruz told pitcher Arnold León to plunk Robinson for violated one of baseball’s unwritten rules that states that a team should not bunt or attempt to steal with a significant lead. After two balls well inside, León succeeded in hitting Rene Tosoni.

In the ensuing mêlée, both benches cleared and seven players were ejected after the scrapping turned, in several occasions, into serious fighting. Canadian manager Ernie Whitt defended the bunt by noting that the WBC encourages large run differentials in case of the need for a tiebreaker.

Canada would take advantage of Robinson’s heads-up play, loading the bases with no outs. Cale Iorg lifted a ball to left that would score one, though that was all the red-and-white would push across. John Axford, closer for Canada and the Milwaukee Brewers, struck out one in a three-up, three-down ninth.

Morneau and Saunders both had a pair of doubles, two singles, scored two runs, and drove in three to lead Canada. Green had a three-hit, three-run day and Robinson collected two knocks. Canada was an incredible 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

The result ended México’s World Baseball Classic run with a 1-2 record. The 11th-ranked nation will have to take a page from their opponents’ history and reach the 2017 WBC through the qualifying rounds. Canada took a 1-1 record into their showdown with the United States on the final day of Pool D action.

Puerto Rico 6, Venezuela 3
Box Score

Puerto Rico qualified for the second round of the World Baseball Classic in front of a packed house in Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, eliminating heavily-favoured Venezuela in a 6-3 pitcher’s duel. It is the first time in WBC history that Venezuela did not win at least three games in the tourney.

Both teams were scoreless in the first two innings and neither country threatened until the bottom of the third. Venezuela’s Omar Infante roped a double with one out and came home on a single by Marco Scutaro. Asdrubal Cabrera drew a free pass from Puerto Rican starter Nelson Figueroa, who got Miguel Cabrera to pop out.

Pablo Sandoval hit his second double of the Classic to score Scutaro, but Venezuela’s chances of a big inning were ended when Asdrubal Cabrera was thrown out at the plate. Rightfielder Álex Ríos hurled the ball in to Martín Maldonaldo, who zipped a throw to Yadier Molina, who tagged out Cabrera.

Desperate for a win to avoid elimination, Venezuela handed a 2-0 lead to big league veteran Carlos Zambrano, who had looked like his old self through the first three frames.

Zambrano immediately ran into trouble, giving up a double to Ángel Pagán, though a nifty play by Miguel Cabrera erased him at third on a grounder by Irving Falú. The ‘Big Z’ failed to take advantage, walking Ríos and throwing a wild pitch to put two runners in scoring position. A walk to Molina with two outs loaded the bases and ended Zambrano’s night after 3 2/3 innings.

Enrique González took the hill, and Mike Aviles wasted no time in lacing a ball to centre that scored Falú and Ríos. Venezuela’s centerfielder, Gerardo Parra, took a page out of Ríos’ book, uncorking a throw to Sandoval at third base to catch Molina and end the inning.

Venezuela was unable to get back any of the runs against Figueroa, who tossed four innings. The right-hander gave up two runs on five hits and no walks, getting one batter swinging.

Hendersón Álvarez took the hill in the top of the fifth for Venezuela and quickly coughed up the lead on a leadoff walk. Maldonaldo was the beneficiary, moving over on a sacrifice bunt. Pagán sent him home with two outs on a single to centre, and it was 3-2 Puerto Rico.

In the eighth, Aviles got his third RBI on a sacrifice fly and Venezuelan closer Francisco Rodríguez gave up a double to Luís Figueroa that scored Beltrán and Molina, who had singled earlier in the frame.

Puerto Rico’s lead grew to 6-2, but in the bottom of the ninth, a one-out double from Salvador Pérez led to a run. He was plated by Martín Prado’s second two-base hit of the tourney. Fernando Cabrera came in to finish off the eighth-ranked Venezuelans, and got two easy outs for the save.

Figueroa earned the win for Puerto Rico, which improved to 2-0 and earned a spot in the second round for the third-straight year despite the absences of Albert Pujols and David Ortiz. Álvarez took the loss for Venezuela. Venezuela was officially eliminated from the tournament.

U.S.A. 6, Italy 2
Box Score

World Baseball Classic upstarts Italy took an early lead against the United States but was unable to hold it, and the American got their first win in 2013, 6-2. Faced with a humiliating elimination if they lost, the U.S. was saved by the bat of David Wright, who hit a grand slam in a five-run American fifth.

Italy continued their surprising play from the start of the game, looking confident against U.S. starter Ryan Vogelsong, whose last official start saw him pitch 5 2/3 scoreless innings for the victory in game three of the World Series.

A wild pitch from Vogelsong gave Italy a 1-0 lead after one, and the Azzurri would tack on another run in the second. Tyler LaTorre lined a single to centre and came home one batter later on a double by Anthony Granato. Punto followed with a second-straight hit, but Vogelsong got out of the jam with a ground ball.

Luca Panerati, who pitched for Bologna in the Italian Baseball League (IBL) in 2012, stymied the American offence for the first three innings, scattering three hits and striking out one without walking a batter. The 23-year old southpaw impressed with his ability to use a low-70s/high-110s changeup and a mid-80s/low-130s fastball to keep the U.S. off-balance.

The red, white, and blue finally got on the board in the fourth against reliever Marco Grifantini, another product of the IBL. Ryan Braun singled to start the frame and came around on a double from Joe Mauer. With no outs and Mauer in scoring position, the Americans had a chance to break the game wide open, but Grifantini bore down. The right-hander got a grounder from Wright and back-to-back strikeouts of Giancarlo Stanton and Eric Hosmer.

After a strong finish to the fourth, Grifantini stayed in the game to face the bottom of the American order, but was pulled after walking Adam Jones and giving up a single to Jonathan Lucroy. Matt Torra came on to pitch and got the first out, but gave up a single to Brandon Phillips that scored Jones.

Braun struck out swinging against Torra and Italy was one out away from keeping the game level at two. Torra walked Mauer to load the bags and had Wright down 1-2, but grooved a changeup to the New York Mets’ star third baseman, who crushed it to left centre for a grand slam.

The bullpens took over for the rest of the game. The U.S. put two runners on in the sixth and seventh, but a succession of relievers for the blue-and-white kept the game close. Italy managed only one hit the rest of the way, as Ross Detwiler hurled the final four innings.

Italy, rated ninth in the world rankings, had been the first team to qualify for the second round from either of the North American brackets, and used the game to get most of their roster some experience. Marco Mazzieri, skipper for Team Italy, used 23 players to set a new WBC record. Nine were pitchers, equalling a mark hit several times in this year’s tournament.

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