BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—The Dominican Republic, the most efficient producer of baseball talent in the world, is on the hunt for its first WBC title. And, with the way the Dominicans are playing, maybe this is their year.
On Saturday afternoon, the Dominicans completed a perfect run through the first two rounds of the tournament, defeating Puerto Rico, 2-0, to win Pool 2 before 25,846 fans. The total attendance for the six-game tournament was 153,115.
Both Puerto Rico and D.R. had already advanced to the WBC semifinals, but this game determined seeding for the next round. It means Puerto Rico must travel cross-country tonight and play Japan, winner of Pool 1 and the defending two-time WBC champion, Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET. The DR, with a six-game Classic winning streak, gets a day off and plays the Netherlands at 9 p.m. ET Monday. The winners of those games plays for the WBC championship Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET.
Dominican catcher Carlos Santana, who had been mentioned by manager Tony Pena as a possible player to rest on Saturday, instead got the start and slugged a solo home run to right field that measured 423 feet. It was one of only six Dominican hits on the day, and half of them came in the ninth inning, when they got an insurance run on Francisco Pena’s RBI single.
Starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez threw six shutout innings, and the Dominican bullpen of Jose Veras, Santiago Casilla and Fernando Rodney preserved the three-hit shutout.
Dominican shortstop Erick Aybar, playing because manager Pena wanted to rest starter Jose Reyes, made two stellar plays in the field to help subdue Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico threatened in the third and fourth but could not score. Carlos Rivera led off the third with a single, pinch-runner Irvin Falu stole second and took third on a throwing error by Santana. But Rodriguez struck out Andy Gonzalez looking. Then, with the infield in, Aybar short-hopped a ground ball and threw home to nail Falu, and Angel Pagan flew out to the warning track in right field to end the inning. Rivera left the game after that half-inning due to left hamstring tightness.
Puerto Rico got a leadoff double down the third-base line by Luis Figueroa to open the fourth. But Carlos Beltran struck out on a pitch in the dirt. A fly out and a strike out ended the threat.
The Puerto Ricans went down in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Martin Maldonado walked to open the eighth inning and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. But he was thrown out at third by Aybar after he gambled by trying to take the base on a routine grounder to shortstop.
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