by Matt Meyers
March 7, 2006
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.–David Ortiz made himself a legend in Boston with his October performance, but he is adding to his legacy in March as well.
The Dominican slugger put his stamp on the Pool D opener of the World Baseball Classic with a solo home run in the top of the first off of Venezuelan ace Johan Santana. He then sealed it with a two-run homer in the top of the ninth off of Carlos Hernandez, a lefthander brought in to face one hitter–Ortiz.
“Everybody knows that these are both good teams with great pitching staffs,” Ortiz said. “We knew we had to be patient and wait for the right pitches to hit.”
The Dominican also got two homers from Adrian Beltre, part of a power barrage as the two teams combined for six home runs (and one dramatic near miss) in an 11-5 victory for the Dominican Republic that was closer than the final score indicated.
After allowing the home run to Ortiz in the first, Santana settled down over the next two-plus innings, allowing only one more run that was unearned on an error by second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo. He fanned five in 3 1/3 innings, showing the stuff that made him a Cy Young Award winner in 2004, before giving way to righthander Carlos Zambrano.
If Santana is Venezuela’s No. 1 pitcher, then Zambrano would have to qualify for No. 1A. He looked like it when he fanned Wily Taveras to end the fourth, as he pounded the strike zone with a fastball that touched 97 mph three times during the at-bat.
The Venezuelans cut into the 2-0 deficit in the bottom half of the frame as Alfonzo redeemed himself from his earlier miscue with an RBI single to right to drive home Magglio Ordonez, but the wheels came off for Zambrano in the fifth as he allowed the Dominicans to pad their lead, which they would never relinquish.
After retiring the first two hitters, he walked Albert Pujols and Ortiz back-to-back before left fielder Moises Alou drove Pujols home with a single. That set the stage for Beltre, who smoked the second pitch he saw over the left-field fence to put the Dominicans up 6-1.
“(Carlos) might have been trying to do a little bit too much,” Venezuelan catcher Ramon Hernandez said. “He saw the crowd and got excited.”
The Venezuelans rallied for two runs in the bottom of the fifth with a two-run blast from Miguel Cabrera and another in the sixth with a solo shot from Alfonzo. Alfonzo, who had three hits and two RBIs, was an unlikely hero for almost everyone.
“I did not have any doubts about including Alfonzo in the lineup, just at what position,” Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo said. “He suggested second base because his new team, the Angels, want to see him there, and we had Miguel Cabrera at third.”
Thanks to Cabrera, Venezuela came within inches of tying the game in the bottom half of the seventh. After shortstop Omar Vizquel led off with a double, the Dominicans brought on righthander Julian Tavarez to face Cabrera with two outs. The 22-year-old smoked Tavarez’ third offering to deep left-center field, where it bounced off the top of the wall and straight up in the air. The Venezuelan players and fans waited with baited breath to see if it would go over the fence, but it dropped harmlessly to the warning track dirt in center field. Sojo argued the play vehemently and the umpires conferred.
As they sat huddled by third base, the Venezuelan fans in the evenly split sellout crowd of 10,645 at Cracker Jack Field tried to influence them with chants of “home run, home run, home run,” followed by, “fuera, fuera, fuera (outside)”; but it was to no avail, as it was ruled a double. The score was 6-5, and that was as close as the Venezuelans would get, as Ortiz’ homer in the ninth put the game out of reach.
“We were trying to pitch him down and away,” Ramon Hernandez said. “But our pitcher threw a three-and-two breaking ball and left it a little too far over the plate.”
One could question the wisdom of pitching to Ortiz with two outs and first base open, but Sojo would not second guess himself.
“We manage by instinct,” he said. “We decided to pitch to David because then we would have had to face another great hitter in Alou (with two men on).”
Any thoughts of another Venezuelan comeback were squashed two batters later as Beltre hit his second homer of the game, this time a two-run shot, to put the game completely out of reach.
The Dominicans tacked on one more run in the ninth and Duaner Sanchez pitched a 1-2-3 bottom half to end it, giving starter Bartolo Colon the victory and Santana the loss.
The biggest thing Venezeula lost in this game was bragging rights, however. It is still expected to advance to the next stage with victories over Italy and Australia, but the Venezuelans are trying not to take that for granted.
“Obviously, (the loss) puts more pressure on us,” Sojo said. “Now we have to go back to our hotel and focus on tomorrow’s game against Italy.”
The Venezuelans will send Freddy Garcia to the mound, and they are optimistic that they can take something from today’s loss.
“Unfortunately, we lost,” Cabrera said. “We need to learn some lessons. Be more aggressive, make fewer mistakes and try and win from the first inning, instead of having to come from behind.”
The Dominicans will not play again until Thursday, when they will square off against Italy, when a victory should put them through to the second round. Because Venezuela defeated them in the Caribbean series, they have regained bragging rights. However, since they are likely to meet at least once more during the Classic, they might not hold them for long.