Aussies Score, But Dominicans Finish Pool Sweep

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.–With the order of finish in Pool D
determined on Thursday night, there was really nothing left to play for
between the Dominican Republic and Australia on Friday night, but don’t
tell that to the Dominican fans.

Like they had all week, the
continued to chant, dance and sing well into the evening, and long
after their countrymen had secured a 6-4 victory.

The game
actually was that tight. After going scoreless for the first two games
of the tournament while managing just two hits, the Aussies finally got
on the board in the first when Trent Durrington lead off with a walk
and stole second. The second baseman advanced to third on a sharp
single to right by left fielder Gavin Fingleson and scored on a
sacrifice fly by Brett Roneberg, the DH.

Their only lead
would not last long. In the second inning, the Dominicans caught a
break when a Miguel Tejada’s leadoff pop up to short left field fell
harmlessly between shortstop Brad Harman and Fingleson when the two
could not communicate on who should catch it. After a walk and an
infield hit, catcher Alberto Castillo drove home two with a double down
the left-field line to give the Dominicans a lead they would never
relinquish.

The lead eventually reached 6-2, but the Aussies
showed some resiliency in the ninth as they rallied for two runs and
put the tying run at the plate, but pinch-hitter Glenn Williams fouled
out to third to end the game.

After the loss to Venezuela,
Australian manager Jon Deeble commented that his players really have
trouble with above-average velocity, because they don’t get to see it
that much. But they made the necessary adjustments in their third game
to put four runs on the board, earning a fair share of respect in the
process.

“It was funny, in the last inning they brought in a
new pitcher who was throwing 95 and we all looked at each other and
were like, ‘ah, it’s just another one of those,’” said first baseman
Justin Huber of the Royals, Australia’s top prospect. “That is the
game, you make adjustments as you go along. Good players do that, and
we have a lot of good players.

“If you face those pitchers every day, it is only natural that you are going to get better at hitting those guys.”

Though
they clinched first place in Pool D with Australia’s loss to Venezuela
on Thursday, the Dominicans’ victory on Friday made them the only
undefeated team in the pool. They will advance to the second stage of
pool play, along with Venezuela, which will take place in San Juan.

The
Venezuelans will open play in Pool Two on Sunday afternoon against
Cuba. Like in the first round, the Venezuelans will open with lefty
Johan Santana on the hill. As arguably the best pitcher in the world,
the Venezuelans have an edge against anyone whenever he starts, though
that advantage did them little good in their first game against the
Dominican Republic as they lost 11-5.

The pitching situation
will be different in Round Two, because pitchers will be allowed to
throw 85 pitches per game as opposed to 65 in the first round. This
will be extremely advantageous to a team like Venezuela, whose strength
lies in its starting pitching.

Venezuela used piggyback
starters in the first round, with Carlos Zambrano relieving Santana in
the opener and Freddy Garcia giving way to Carlos Silva in game two.
Manager Luis Sojo will have the option of changing his strategy to use
Santana, Zambrano and Garcia as his starters and picking his spots of
when to use Silva, who was extremely effective against Italy, and
Kelvim Escobar, who started against Australia. Santana, Zambrano and
Garcia would seem like the choices, to start, but Silva and Escobar
were impressive in their outings.

The Dominicans will enter
the second round oozing confidence. They possess what is widely
considered the most potent lineup in the tournament and were rumored to
be adding Vladimir Guerrero. Fortunately for the remaining seven teams,
that rumor proved false and they will be forced to make due with what
they already have.

There is no question the Dominican
Republic can score runs against anyone; the question will be their
pitching. Bartolo Colon is clearly their No. 1 starter, but after that
the situation gets a little bit hazy. Lefthander Odalis Perez
(Dodgers), who started their game against Italy, was unimpressive, and
righthander Daniel Cabrera (Orioles) was solid though unspectacular in
earning the win Friday.

The Dominicans have a lot of
flexibility though, because only Colon threw more than 50 pitches, so
their entire staff will be available starting with their Round Two
opener.

The two wild cards could be the Braves Jorge Sosa
and Twins prospect Francisco Liriano. Sosa looked sharp in relief
against Italy and is in top form after a season of winter ball. Liriano
relieved against Australia, and although he allowed an unearned run, he
was absolutely dominant with a fastball in the 94-97 mph range and
strong secondary stuff.

“His changeup was impressive,” said
Huber, one of his strikeout victims. “I was geared up for the fastball
obviously, and he threw (the change) good. He had good arm speed and
that is what probably got me. It had a bit of fade and a bit of sink,
but the changeup is sold in the arm speed and he did a very nice job
with that.”

The lefthander entered with one out in the
fourth and fanned six in 2 2/3 innings. Dominican manager Manny Acta
indicated he is not afraid of putting the 22-year-old in a big game,
and possibly giving him a start.

“Yes, there is a
possibility, but we’re thinking of piggybacking a couple of those
guys,” Acta said. “But definitely, he’ll have a large role for us. If
not (in San Juan), probably over there in San Diego. The kid has shown
he has terrific stuff. I think he can go against any lineup in this
tournament.”

Even without a change in their pitcher usage
patterns, the Dominicans will remain favorites to advance. By virtue of
beating Cuba in the Pool C finale, Puerto Rico and the Dominican
Republic are set to square off in their Round Two opener, and Acta made
it very clear who he sees as his country’s biggest rival.

“Yes,
to some extent of course there is some rivalry and also because the
Venezuela pitching staff now these days is stronger than Puerto Rico,”
Acta said. “However, with the larger population of the Dominicans
living in New York and in Puerto Rico, our main rivalry will continue
to be with Puerto Rico.”

Round Two, much like Pool D, should have plenty of action, and the Dominican Republic will be at the center of it.

International | #2006 #International Affairs #World Baseball Classic

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