The Dominican Republic doesn't traditionally do well in international baseball competition, for many reasons—from its top players leaving the island at the ages of 16 or 17, to the lack of organization by its governing body, to its big leaguers not playing hard enough during World Baseball Classic losses to the Netherlands in 2009.
But none of that was in evidence Tuesday as the Dominican Republic ended the United States' undefeated run through the 2011 Pan Am Qualifier. The Dominican banged out 14 hits against four American pitchers and beat Team USA 7-2 to move into the gold-medal game against Cuba, which edged Venezuela 3-2.
The U.S. plays a third-place game Wednesday afternoon against Venezuela but already has qualified for two tournaments in 2011, the Pan Am Games and the World Cup. Those were the primary objectives for the team in this event, but after Monday's win against Cuba to move to 9-0, anything short of a gold medal is probably a disappointment.
Dodgers lefthander Mario Alvarez who got the best of Team USA on the mound. The 26-year-old lefty went 6-6, 4.94 at Double-A Chattanooga this season and has arm strength, with reports that his fastball can reach 94 mph, but scouts generally pan his secondary stuff. He was on Tuesday, though, and gave up just five hits and one run in five innings to get the victory. Ex-big leaguers Juan Perez (Dodgers) and 37-year-old Dario Veras, who still is active in the Mexican League, closed out the U.S. and gave up just one hit and one run in the last four innings.
Team USA was limited to just six hits, three of them triples by Eric Hosmer (Royals), Todd Frazier (Reds) and Cord Phelps (Indians). Frazier had an RBI single to score Hosmer in the fourth, tying the game at 1, and Frazier tripled and scored on Phelps' groundout in the seventh. But the young American lineup struck out 13 times, including eight of their final 12 outs against Perez and Veras.
Meanwhile, the Dominican lineup features plenty of veterans of its own, with ex-all-star Tony Batista hitting cleanup as the DH and another 37-year-old Mexican Leaguer, ex-Oriole Willis Otanez, hitting fifth. Batista's two-run single off Andrew Lamontagne (Brewers) in the seventh inning broke the game open, turning a 2-1 game into a 4-1 cushion. Otanez pitched in a two-run homer off Justin De Fratus (Phillies) in a three-run ninth inning that salted away the game for the Dominican.
The rest of the lineup includes ex-big leaguers Bernie Castro (0-for-4 but two runs scored), Alexis Gomez (2-for-5) and 40-year-old catcher Alberto Castillo (2-for-4, run), veteran minor league outfielders Jose Constanza (Indians) and Ricardo Nanita (Mexican League), and shortstop Pedro Lopez (Nationals).
Speaking of veterans, Cuba rallied from a 2-0 first-inning deficit and beat Venezuela in walk-off fashion. Cuba yanked starter Yulieski Gonzalez after he gave up three hits and a run to start the game, and Venezuela tacked on another in the inning. But Cuba chipped away against former Cubs lefty Jesus Yepez, who walked six and gave up five hits and two runs while working into the seventh. Cuba got the game-winner off Carlos Mori, as Alfredo Despaigne singled to left with the bases loaded and one out to end it.