Dominican Republic Topples Upstart Colombia

SEE ALSO: WBC Schedule

MIAMI—The Dominican Republic won. But make no mistake, this was an even bigger victory for the future of Colombian baseball.

That was the net effect of the Dominicans’ 10-3, 11-inning victory on Sunday afternoon before a sold-out, pro-Dominican crowd of 36,952 at Marlins Park. The D.R. won the World Baseball Classic’s Pool C with a 3-0 record and secured its spot in the second round.

But Colombia (1-2) could have—and maybe should have—won this game in the bottom of the ninth. In fact, they were two plays away from being 3-0 in the tournament.

“This hurts a lot,” Colombia manager Luis Urueta said. “We were 90 feet away from shocking the world and leaving the Dominicans with their mouths open.”

Still, there is no doubt that Colombia, a South American nation known for coffee and futbol, with no baseball tradition, created a stir this weekend. The Colombians won their first-ever WBC main-draw game, over Canada, and took two of baseball’s super powers—the U.S. and Dominican Republic—to extra innings before losing.

Baseball is growing fast along Colombia’s North Coast, mainly in cities such as Cartagena and Barranquilla. A new state-of-the-art facility is being built in Cartagena, and this weekend’s results can only help make the sport more popular.

That’s the future for Colombia.

The present, as in Sunday’s ninth inning, is painful.

Tied 3-3, Jonathan Solano hit a leadoff single and was lifted for pinch-runner Oscar Mercado. After Tito Polo was hit by a pitch, Donovan Solano nearly hit into a double play. But second baseman Jonathan Villar’s relay was high, putting runners on the corners with one out.

On a 1-2 count off of reliever Hansel Robles, Reynaldo Rodriguez hit a shallow liner to left that was caught by Jose Bautista, and Mercado made the daring move to tag up from third and try to score the winning run. Bautista’s throw to the plate nailed Mercado out on a bang-bang play at the plate as Colombian players raced onto the field in protest.

Colombia was upset D.R. catcher Welington Castillo blocked Mercado’s path. But at issue was whether the throw took Castillo up the line. Was blocking the plate in that situation unavoidable?

Urueta, the only member of the Colombian contingent who was made available to the media after the game, took the high road, even after Rodriguez and Polo were ejected for arguing the play vociferously.

“To me, it was an out,” Urueta said. “I didn’t see anything controversial. It’s just that our players were emotional.”

After that and a scoreless 10th, the rules changed. Under tournament rules, starting with the 11th inning, each team starts with runners on first and second and no outs.

The Dominicans took advantage of this quirk, which is meant to save pitching staffs.

In the 11th, Castillo had a two-run single and Jean Segura had a three-run double, and the rout was on.

“Colombia gave us a tremendous battle,” Dominican manager Tony Pena said. “Welington’s tag at home was the play of the game.”

Early on, though, things were much tighter.

The Dominicans, fresh off their 7-5 comeback win over the U.S. on Saturday night, had a quick turnaround to Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. first pitch. A slow start against a team with little baseball tradition such as Colombia would have been understandable.

But, proving there was no hangover, the DR produced a hit on the third pitch of the game. Segura singled to right on a 0-2 pitch, advanced to second on a walk, went to third on a steal and scored on Bautista’s sacrifice fly.

Colombia tied the score in the bottom of the first. Rodriguez tripled to right and scored on Giovanny Urshela’s single.

However, Colombia stranded the bases loaded with two outs on another stellar play by third baseman Manny Machado, who fielded a tough hopper and threw Mauricio Ramos out at first by a half-step.

The DR scored twice in the third, again getting its leadoff man on. Villar singled, stole second and scored on Machado’s double. And, with two outs and Machado on third, a fielding error by Colombian shortstop Donovan Solano made it 3-1.

Colombia started a rally with two outs and none on in the sixth. Adrian Sanchez worked a full-count walk off of reliever Cesar Valdez. Ramos then stroked an RBI double to cut Colombia’s deficit to 3-2.

Colombia tied the score 3-3 in the eighth on a solo homer to left by clean-up batter Jorge Alfaro, the Phillies catching prospect, who slugged a 2-1 fastball from veteran closer Fernando Rodney.

“Give Colombia credit—it was fabulous to see them play,” Segura said. “They are a team that is inferior to us (in terms of talent), but they played great.”

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