BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—With unlikely heroes Nelson Cruz and Erick Aybar, the first-ever World Baseball Classic meeting between the United States and the Dominican Republic did not disappoint.
Playing before an enthusiastic crowd of 34,366—the fourth largest in Marlins Park history—the Dominicans defeated the Americans, 3-1, to clinch a spot in next week’s WBC semifinals in San Francisco.
The U.S. will play Puerto Rico here Friday night. The winner of that game also advances to San Francisco.
The roof was closed before Thursday’s game due to the chilly-for-Miami weather, but the top nearly came off in the top of the ninth. With USA closer Craig Kimbrel on the mound, Cruz sliced a double to right-center field. Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton made a diving stop of the bouncing ball to keep it from becoming a triple.
Dominican Carlos Santana bounced out to second, but he did his job, advancing Cruz to third with one out.
Aybar, a pinch-hitter for outfielder Ricardo Nanita, was then demonstrably upset at an outside pitch called for a strike. But with a 1-2 count, he singled to right field— over the head of the drawn-in field—to give the Dominicans a 2-1 lead. Aybar stole second, and a single by Jose Reyes made it 3-1.
In the USA ninth, the Dominicans sent out closer Fernando Rodney to shut the door. Adam Jones flied to left, Ben Zobrist struck out looking and Shane Victorino popped out to third as the Dominicans raced onto the field in joyous celebration.
The game started with a bit of a downer—the news that USA star David Wright would sit due to sore ribs.
Still, the Americans got off to a fast start, scoring in the first inning on Eric Hosmer’s bases-loaded walk. Dominican starter Samuel Deduno then struck out Adam Jones looking at a 3-2 fastball—a key play.
In the second inning, former Marlin Hanley Ramirez, greeted by boos, hammered a 2-1 pitch for a long line-drive home run to left-center. That tied the score, 1-1.
Both Deduno and American starter R.A. Dickey lasted five innings, and each allowed just one run.
One of the game’s gems was turned in by Dominican center fielder Alejandro De Aza, who had been picked off earlier in the game.
He atoned in the fifth by racing back to catch a drive off the bat of Joe Mauer. De Aza turned his back on the ball, sprinted back, turned the wrong way . . . and still made the grab.