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SAN DIEGO—Giancarlo Stanton waited patiently for his turn to make his mark on the World Baseball Classic.
Adam Jones had already made his but was looking for more.
Together, with a raucous, flag-waving, sellout crowd of 43,002 at their backs, they propelled the United States to arguably its best win in the short history of the WBC, and on to the semifinals.
Stanton crushed a tiebreaking two-run homer, Jones robbed a home run with a sensational leaping catch, and Team USA beat the Dominican Republic 6-3 on Saturday night at Petco Park in a winner-take-all game to advance to the World Baseball Classic semifinals.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” U.S. manager Jim Leyland said. “We’re going to the final round. We beat a great team. Adam’s play really charged us up. Giancarlo’s homer really charged us up. They competed, they were a great team, and tonight we were the better team.”
Stanton’s fourth-inning blast onto the second balcony of the Western Metal Supply Co. building in left field turned the momentum the USA’s way permanently and kept it in the lead for good. With that, the U.S. beat the defending champion Dominican Republic for the first time in three tries in the WBC and eliminated them from the tournament.
“The feeling of confidence was never a question. It’s just getting timing and feel,” said Stanton, who didn’t start the first two games of the second round. “So that was the toughest part without playing a couple days and understanding we’ve got to put the best guys out there who are feeling the best, too. So you’ve got to lock it in ASAP and just get ready to go.”
Andrew McCutchen added a two-run double in the eighth and Luke Gregerson closed it out in the ninth. Team USA will face Japan in the semifinals on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The Netherlands will face Puerto Rico on Monday night.
“I don’t really care what’s happened in the past,” Leyland said. “This team has a lot of heart. It’s got a lot of talent. And it’s an honor to manage this team. That’s all I can tell you. I have no idea what’s going to happen. But we’re still playing, I can tell you that.”
Backed by a partisan crowd that only got louder as the game went on, Team USA worked back to make it a ballgame.
Ian Kinsler brought the first run home on a fielder’s choice in the third inning. Christian Yelich followed by ripping a double to the wall in left-center and Kinsler raced around from first to tie it, bringing the crowd to its feet.
Stanton gave the U.S. its first lead in the fourth. After a two-out single by Brandon Crawford, the hulking slugger annihilated a first-pitch fastball on a line to make it 4-2.
MLB’s Statcast technology measured Stanton’s blast at 117.3 mph, the fourth-hardest-hit home run since Statcast began tracking in 2015.
“It felt kind of like the Home Run Derby,” said Stanton, who won the 2016 derby at Petco Park with 62 home runs.
The highlights weren’t done for Team USA.
Jones, who homered in each of the first two games of the second round, made the signature catch of the Classic in the seventh. With his Orioles teammate Manny Machado vying for a home run, Jones raced back and to his left and leaped at the 396-foot sign in center field, pulling down the ball at the top of his jump and robbing Machado of a home run to send the crowd into delirium.
Machado simply tipped his cap to Jones and, shortly after, the crowd began chanting Jones’ name.
“I’m still in kind of shock that I even got to that ball,” Jones said. “I mean, off the bat I’m just like ‘This ball’s hit really far, so just keep going, keep going.’ You know this California air’s going to slow it down, and just never quit. That’s just the style I play with. I don’t mind running into a wall or two. I just kept going after the ball.”
Leyland compared Jones’ catch to another he was in the dugout managing for 25 years ago and is considered one of the greatest plays in baseball history.
“Otis Nixon made a catch against me one time where he dug his spike into the wall and went over the wall and caught it, and this one was right there with it, and at a big time,” Leyland said. “There is no question about it. A lot of times it’s not where you make the play, it’s when you make the play. That just took a little wind out of their sails.”
Cano brought the Dominicans closer with a solo home run immediately after to make it 4-3, making Jones’ catch even more important. Without it, Cano’s blast would’ve made it a 4-4 ballgame.
“Adam Jones’ catch I think was the big difference,” Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena said. “Because with those back-to-back, if he didn’t catch the ball, it would have been a back-to-back home runs, and it would have been a tie game.”
Instead, the U.S. remained in the lead and McCutchen provided the nail in the coffin with his two-run double in the top of the eighth.
Sam Dyson worked a perfect bottom of the eighth to stifle any hopes of an early comeback attempt by the Dominicans, and Gregerson retired the side in order in the ninth to finish it as chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” rang throughout the ballpark.
“Atmosphere was great. It was huge,” McCutchen said. “Miami had a huge crowd there, being in a dome made it a little louder, but I felt like we had more of the advantage here in San Diego. I thought we had a lot more people representing the U.S. and chanting our names as opposed to Miami. Crowds were big, crowds were great, and they were intense. I definitely felt we had the advantage up here.”
PUERTO RICO 13, VENEZUELA 2
Mike Aviles went 4-for-5 with three RBIs as Puerto Rico finished second-round play unbeaten at Petco Park.
Puerto Rico, which had already clinched a spot in the semifinals, played only three starters but still ran away with the victory. It led the whole way and piled on at the end with 10 runs over the final four innings, including a five-run eighth.
Jose De Leon pitched 2.2 scoreless innings and struck out five to pick up the win.
Rougned Odor hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning for Venezuela’s only runs. Martin Perez took the loss after allowing four hits and two runs (one earned) in 2.2 innings.
Venezuela’s pitchers allowed 17 hits and had more walks (8) than strikeouts (7). Venezuela finished 0-3 in the second-round and 2-5 in the tournament.
Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina was named the second-round MVP.