Dominicans Dominate Italy

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.–For the second straight game Italy shot
itself in the foot with defensive miscues that led directly to runs for
its opponent. But in the end, much like in the Italians’ 6-0 loss to
Venezuela Wednesday night, it did not really matter. The Dominican
Republic was just too strong, too deep and too good.

Italy was able to put up a little more of a fight on this afternoon
after tagging Dominican starter Odalis Perez (Dodgers) for three runs
in three innings, it was ultimately undone by an overpowering effort
from Dominican reliever Jorge Sosa (Braves) and a continued power surge
by a rejuvenated Adrian Beltre (Mariners) as the Dominicans claimed an
8-3 victory.

And if the prospect of facing the Dominican
Republic wasn’t frightening enough for the rest of the field, it got a
whole lot scarier for a while with the postgame announcement from
manager Manny Acta that Vladimir Guerrero will likely join the
Dominican Republic for the rest of the tournament. “It doesn’t matter
how good we are now,” Acta said. “A guy like that can make us better.
We are not taking anything for granted.”

However, Guerrero
told ESPN Deportes in a telephone interview that his situation had not
changed and he would not play in the WBC after all. Without him, the
Dominican looked plenty good against Italy.

Italy got on the
board first in the top of the first when shortstop Tony Giarratano
(Tigers) lead off with a double and scored on a single up the middle by
left fielder Frank Catalanotto (Blue Jays). The lead would not hold up
for long.

Shortstop Jose Reyes (Mets) led off with a single
off Italy starter Tony Fiore and moved to second when Italian third
baseman Mark Saccomanno (Astros) threw wide to second on a slow
grounder by second baseman Placido Polanco (Tigers).

could not avoid trouble as reigning National League MVP Albert Pujols
proceeded to hit a sharp grounder right at him. The Baylor alum bobbled
the tricky hop and his throw to second went into right field, allowing
two runs to score, after Pujols got into a rundown long enough between
first and second giving Polanco a chance to reach the plate. It was a
rough tournament for Saccomanno in the field as he made a throwing
error the previous night that allowed a run to score for Venezuela.

order to beat a team like this, you have to be on top of your game,”
Italy DH Mike Piazza said. “You can’t outs away and you can’t give runs

Italy showed some resiliency in the top of the third
when Giarratano walked with one out. The shortstop was running on a 1-0
pitch to Frank Menechino and scored easily when his double-play partner
doubled off the center field wall. Catalanotto doubled to left two
pitches later to make it 3-2 Italy.

The lead did not hold for long.

lead off the Dominican half of the third with a single, and Pujols
blasted the next pitch he saw onto the grassy knoll in left field to
give the Dominicans a lead they would never relinquish.

was a cutter,” Fiore said. “But it was flat and it didn’t move. I can’t
beat myself up too much because I am trying to throw a first-pitch
strike. It was not the pitch I wanted but there is not much I can do if
he is going to do that.”

The score held at 4-3 until the
bottom of the fifth. Reliever Riccardo De Santis, who was brought on in
the bottom of the fourth, fooled Pujols, but he reached on a dribbler
to third for a leadoff single. De Santis was able to retire cleanup
hitter David Ortiz, but Moises Alou followed with a single before
Beltre stepped to the plate.

Beltre and De Santis dueled for
seven pitches before the third baseman crushed his third home run in
two games over the wall in center.

“Of course when you face
guys like that you have to be careful with every pitch and that is what
I was trying to do,” De Santis, who is one of just four natural born
Italians on the team, said. “The difference between those guys and
anyone else is that when you make a mistake they kill you . . . It was
sinker outside, I left it over the plate. It was a bomb.”

hopes of an Italy comeback were squashed by Sosa, who allowed just one
baserunner over four innings while fanning four. The Braves
righthander, who was in top form after a season of winter ball, used a
deadly two-pitch combination of mid-90s heat and a low-80s slider to
baffle the Azzurri lineup.

“(That was the best I’ve seen
him) by far,” Polanco said. “He was hitting his spots at a very high
speed and mixed in a couple of sliders. It is scary right there because
you have all the hitters cheating on the fastball, then all of a sudden
you see the offspeed pitch.”

The victory by the Dominicans
all but assures them a place in the next round of play, which for them
would be in Puerto Rico. For Italy, it was a tough loss to take despite
the fact that it was expected by almost everyone. Nonetheless, their
attitude remained positive, as it has all week.

proven to the people of Italy and the Italian Federation that we can
play baseball,” Italian manager Matt Galante said. “No one was afraid
of anyone, we gave as good of an effort as we could, and we had as much
fun as some of the playoff teams I have been a part of.”