BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—Before Tuesday’s game, Dominican manager Tony Pena talked about the “hole” in his starting pitching rotation and his confidence in his bullpen, loaded with strong arms.
As it turned out, the bullpen produced 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball, playing a key role in a come-from-behind, 5-4 win over Italy in the opener of the second round of the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park.
Jose Cedeno, Lorenzo Barcelo, Pedro Strop and Fernando Rodney provided the one-hit relief in front of a pro-Dominican crowd that—complete with drums, horns and vuvuzuelas—was announced at 14,482. Strop got the win, and Rodney got the save. Nelson Cruz provided the game-winning hit with a run-scoring single in the bottom of the eighth to break a 4-4 tie.
The Dominicans, who fell behind, 4-0, in the top of the first inning, got back in the game with solo home runs by Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano (featured here) and then took over with a three-run seventh inning.
The tie-breaking hit came off the bat of Nelson Cruz—or what’s left of his stick, which was shattered. Half of the bat went to third base, but the key part of the equation—the ball—landed safely in right field for a run-scoring single.
The Dominican Republic, which features 19 players who were in the major leagues last season, including seven who have been All-Stars, were nearly doomed by a minor leaguer, Chris Colabello.
The 29-year-old, who spent eight years in the Can-Am League and was BA's 2011 Independent Player of the Year, hit a three-run homer in the first inning Tuesday that put the Dominicans on the defensive.
The inning started when Italy took advantage of a wild Edison Volquez, who led the majors in walks in 2012. Volquez felt he got squeezed by a small strike zone and walked the bases loaded. Alex Liddi (Mariners) then lofted a sacrifice fly to deep right field, and Colabello (Twins), on a 3-2 pitch, drilled a shot over the 392-foot sign in right-center field.
Colabello's mother was born in Naples, Italy and his father played baseball for Italy in the 1984 Olympics at Dodger Stadium. A 6-foot-4, 210-pound righthanded swinger, Colabello has played the corner infield and outfield spots. A native of Framingham, Mass., he went undrafted after playing high school (Milford) and college (Assumption) ball in his home state.
He finally got an MLB team to bite on him last year, when the Twins signed him and sent him to Double-A. Colabello responded by hitting .284/.358/.478 with 19 homers and 98 RBI. He also hit .455 in the first round of the WBC with one homer and four RBI.
But Colabello wasn’t Italy’s only standout on Tuesday. Starting pitcher Tiago Da Silva, 28, allowed just two runs in 5 1/3 innings. A 5-foot-9 righthander, Da Silva was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil but is married to an Italian. He went 9-1, 2.48 in the Italian League last season.
Both runs he allowed Tuesday came on solo home runs that were crushed. Reyes, who flew out to the base of the wall in right field in the first, pulled a 1-2 pitch for a home run down the line in right field in the third inning. It is 335 feet to the pole, and Reyes’ line shot smacked off the Miccosukee sign, about 35 feet up.
In the sixth inning, Cano, the MVP of the Puerto Rico Pool C with three straight three-hit games, slugged a solo home run to the upper deck in right-center field to make it 4-2. Cano, who took his time in his trot admiring his homer, hit a 2-2 pitch.
The Dominicans then loaded the bases with two outs. But in one of the key moments of the game, Italy brought in reliever Pat Venditte, an ambidextrious Yankees Triple-A prospect.
Throwing lefty, Venditte got pinch-hitter Miguel Tejada to line out to right field.
Veridette got in trouble in the seventh, allowing runners on first and second with one out. He got Cano to hit a weak pop-up, but the ball glanced off the glove of shortstop Anthony Granato, who made a long run for the ball in shallow left field.
That left the bases loaded for Edwin Encarnacion, and Italy brought in lefty reliever Luca Panerati. Encarnacion got the cheap RBI when Panerati threw four straight balls, two of them—as with Volquez in the first inning—on borderline calls.
The Dominicans tied the score on Hanley Ramirez’s sacrifice fly to shallow center field and took a 5-4 lead on Cruz’s broken-bat single.