MIAMI–Call it the Power of the Plantain.
The Dominican Republic, led by a two-run homer by Welington Castillo and a three-run blast from Jose Bautista, made itself at home at Marlins Park on Thursday night, defeating Canada 9-2 before 27,388 fans to open Pool C play in the World Baseball Classic.
Plantains, a staple of the Dominican diet, were well represented in the DR-dominated crowd . . . and even on the field.
Thousands of fans waved inflatable versions of the banana-like fruit, and Dominican reliever Fernando Rodney even hoisted a gold-colored one during pre-game introductions.
“DominiCAN,” read the green inflatable plantains, which were spotted all over the stadium. And yes, the Dominicans could on Thursday, opening defense of the WBC title they won at the last event in 2013.
If there were any Canadian fans in the stands, they were not heard above the roar of the Dominicans, who were into the game from start to finish, cheering for a starting lineup that included six MLB All-Stars.
“Our Dominican fans have always supported us,” shortstop Jose Reyes said, “no matter where we are playing.”
The Dominicans broke open a scoreless game with a four-run second inning, highlighted by Castillo’s opposite-field homer to right. Castillo is the No. 9 hitter in a lineup that would be the envy of most every MLB manager.
Bautista, who heard chants of “MVP” during each of his plate appearances, pulled his massive, towering homer to left in the sixth inning to turn a 5-2 game into a rout.
Managed by Tony Pena, the Dominicans are now 15-4 in WBC play, including 8-0 in 2013. With 82 Dominican-born players on 2016 MLB Opening Day rosters–the most of any nation other than the U.S.–Pena had no trouble finding stars for his lineup card.
Canada, now 3-6 all-time in WBC action, has never advanced past the first round of this tournament and is fighting an uphill battle.
Canada manager Ernie Whitt was asked before Thursday’s game for the scouting report on his starting pitcher Ryan Dempster, the retired 39-year-old righthander who last pitched in the majors in 2013. Whitt couldn’t offer one.
“Truthfully,” Whitt admitted, “I haven’t seen him throw.”
Just a few hours later, Whitt had seen enough. Dempster lasted just two innings and allowed seven hits and four runs. He walked one and struck out one.
Dominican starter Carlos Martinez picked up the win, going four innings and allowing three hits and one run, which was unearned. The Cardinals’ flamethrower struck out three and didn’t issue a walk.
Offensively, Bautista and Reyes led the Dominicans with three hits apiece. Bautista had four RBIs, and Reyes scored twice. Gregory Polanco and Miami-born Manny Machado, playing in his hometown, added two hits each.
“I know that I was born here,” Machado said, “but my heart and my blood will always be Dominican.”