SAN FRANCISCO—Seagulls circled the field at AT&T Park, some of them even landing on the playing field before the Netherlands’ World Baseball Classic semifinal matchup with the Dominican Republic was officially over.
But the game was over for all intents and purposes after the Dominican scored four runs in the fifth inning, three of them coming after two were out. That gave manager Tony Pena a lead with 12 more outs to get, and with the likes of Kelvin Herrera, Pedro Strop and Fernando Rodney on to relieve starter Edinson Volquez.
“They based that team on that,” Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. “I think they only have a couple starters, and then most of the guys on the roster were bullpen guys. It showed tonight. Volquez had a shaky start but settled down and gave them five pretty good innings . . . and then they had Herrera and Strop and then Rodney finishing the game.
“It’s a great bullpen. Those guys calmed down our bats.”
It would be a great bullpen over the course of a major league regular season. In a short tournament where the Dominican has won each of its seven games, it’s a difference maker, the biggest reason the Dominican is 7-0 and one win, against Puerto Rico in Tuesday night’s championship game, from an undefeated WBC title run.
The DR has plenty of other heroes. Robinson Cano, at 15-for-29, is hitting better than .500 for the tournament, and the Dutch walked him twice intentionally Monday night. Shortstop Jose Reyes can ignite the offense or come up with a big RBI, as he did Monday when he had the game-winner, a two-out, two-strike RBI single off casey Dutch lefty Diegomar Markwell.
And outfielder Moises Sierra made a running catch into the stands to end the first inning, then keyed the four-run fifth with a double that scored Carlos Santana for the Dominicans’ first run. He then scored the go-ahead run on Reyes’ single and called the Classic “one of my greatest experiences. To be able to represent my country has been the best thing that’s happened to me. Thank God I was able to do it well and I performed well.”
But the biggest on-field reason for the 7-0 Dominican record is a bullpen that has pitched 18 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Only Herrera is unavailable for the title game after throwing more than 30 pitches tonight, but the DR did not use Santiago Casilla or Octavio Dotel tonight, leaving them free to face Puerto Rico.
No one represents the bullpen more than Rodney, from his cocked-to-the-side cap to the over-the-top mimed archery after the save is secure to his newest trick, a plantain stuck in his pants in the duguout during the early innings Monday. Pena said he laughed when he saw Rodney watching the game doing his own unintentional Spinal Tap imitation.
“You know, baseball is just about to have fun . . . The thing that you need to find a way, how are you going to lose the stress?” Pena said. “How are you going to keep your whole group of players laughing, keeping loose?
“So I got surprised when I saw Rodney with a banana, a plantain on the side. I think he pulled them out. I just laughed, right in the middle of the game, this made everybody laugh. And the ballclub, the game like this, you need to have a little bit of fun. You need to find a way to loosen up. And I’m glad that he did it.”
It’s the kind of thing a pitcher can get away with when he’s given up one hit in 8 1/3 WBC innings after a 0.60 ERA and 48 saves in 2012 for the Rays. Rodney doesn’t just loosen up the Dominican team; he gives them a weapon no other WBC team has matched. Even the U.S., with Craig Kimbrel, couldn’t match the Dominican, with the DR getting two runs off Kimbrel in their Pool 2 showdown last week in Miami.
That bullpen has the Dominican confident even with Samuel Deduno taking the hill as the scheduled starter for Tuesday’s championship. The 29-year-old Deduno made 15 starts last year for the Twins and knows he doesn’t have to do it all himself. The bullpen has made Deduno a believer.
“Now, I believe in God,” Deduno said, “and if we believe in God as a team, and we are united and we have faith, because faith is the main thing, then we’re going to play well tomorrow. We will win tomorrow.”
His job essentially can be summed up as, don’t mess it up too much. Give Reyes, Cano and the offense a little time and get the ball to the bullpen with it close. They’ll take care of the rest. Just get the ball to Rodney and let his arrows fly. (Hopefully, without hitting any seagulls.)
Through seven Classic games, that formula has worked perfectly for the Dominican Republic.
“We have had 11 guys in that bullpen,” Pena said, “and I trust those 11 men.”