SAN FRANCISCO – Is there any stopping the Dominican Republic?
It sure doesn’t look like it.
Tony Pena’s team is on the verge of not only winning the World Baseball Classic but becoming the first team to ever go through the event without a loss. The Dominicans seemed a little bit tighter at AT&T Park than they had playing before the wildly enthusiastic fans at Marlins Park last week, but their talent was too much for the Netherlands in Monday night’s semifinal.
A four-run fifth inning built around ringing hits off Dutch starter Diegomar Markwell and reliever Tom Stuifbergen spelled the end for the Netherlands, which had upset Cuba to become the first European team in the WBC’s final round. The final score was 4-1 before a horn-blowing crowd of 27,527.
Puerto Rico, behind fringe Japan League starter Giancarlo Alvarado, gets the chance to upset the powerful Dominicans, who, led by Robinson Cano and Jose Reyes, have been on a mission to erase the embarrassment of 2009. The Dutch team eliminated the Dominicans in the first round the last time the event was played but did not have the element of surprise on its side this time.
“I have a lot of respect for the Dominican team,’’ Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. “They kind of took it for granted a little in 2009 but they came to play this year. That’s why they’re playing (in the championship game).’’
Minnesota Twins right-hander Samuel Deduno will start for Pena against Alvarado. The Dominicans have already beaten Puerto Rico twice in the tournament – by two runs both in San Juan and Miami. Those have been two of their toughest games. But to be fair, nothing has come very hard for Cano, Reyes & Co.
Behind starters Wandy Rodriguez, Edinson Volquez and Deduno, along with heavily worked relievers Fernando Rodney (six saves) and Pedro Strop, the Dominican Republic has outscored the opposition 33-14. That’s fewer than five runs per game from a lineup full of big-leaguers, but the pitching and fielding – like left fielder Moises Sierra’s catch in the crowd to escape a first-inning jam -- has been so strong that the hitters haven’t needed to be especially sharp.
With that said, the Cano-led group seems to be able to produce a rally whenever it needs one. Cano himself has become the hitter nobody wants to face. He was intentionally walked twice by the Dutch after a first-inning single and now is 15-for-29 in the tournament.
Not everything is going bad for the Yankees.
White Sox center fielder Alejandro De Aza has been a rock in the middle of the Dominican outfield but continues to struggle at the plate. He was hitless in three at-bats against the Netherlands and is 4-for-21 overall.
De Aza, the White Sox’s leadoff man, will have an adjustment to make when he goes back to Arizona. He hits ninth in the Dominican order.
It’s been a great tournament but the championship game feels like an anticlimax. Those of us who set our DVRs for games from Taiwan and Japan hoped for a little more sizzle than Deduno-Alvarado for the title.
You can find more star power in the Grapefruit and Cactus League, that’s for sure. But the game will be remembered from Tuesday is the one alongside the Pacific Ocean with a Caribbean Series feel – the one that is expected to be a coronation for the Dominican Republic. Here’s hoping it brings the drama to go along with the guaranteed theatrics.