Craig Kimbrel allowed a total of one double in 62 2/3 innings for the Braves last year. Maybe even more impressive, he allowed just one hit with a man in scoring position. He never allowed multiple hits in an inning.
On Thursday, he gave up one double and two hits with men in scoring position in the ninth to take the loss as the Dominican Republic defeated Team USA 3-1 to advance to the World Baseball Classic semifinals.
Team USA and Puerto Rico will meet in an elimination game Friday to determine who joins the Dominican Republic, Japan and The Netherlands in the semis.
Nelson Cruz opened the top of the ninth in a 1-1 game with a double to right. Giancarlo Stanton made a great play to cut the ball off, but he was forced to leave his feet to make the grab, allowing Cruz to proceed to second. After Carlos Santana moved Cruz along with a grounder to the right side, pinch-hitter Erick Aybar hit a line drive single to right to plate the go-ahead run.
Kimbrel bounced back to fan Aledjandro De Aza, but catcher J.P. Arencibia couldn’t complete the strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play as Aybar stole second. Jose Reyes then singled into center to make it 3-1, knocking Kimbrel from the game.
Fernando Rodney went on to pitch a perfect bottom of the ninth to seal the victory.
It was a bad time for Kimbrel to prove mortal after he fanned 116 batters in 62 2/3 innings last season. Still, it didn’t come as too big of a surprise for anyone who saw him struggling earlier this spring. Yet to find his breaking ball, he gave up four runs — three earned — in four innings, posting a 3/4 K/BB ratio, for the Braves before joining Team USA.
Until the Dominicans broke through, no runs had been scored since Hanley Ramirez’s monster homer to left off R.A. Dickey in the second. Team USA got its only run on Eric Hosmer’s bases-loaded walk in the first.
Team USA’s chances of advancing could now hinge on Ryan Vogelsong pitching well Friday. David Wright’s status is uncertain for the game after he sat out with a balky back Thursday, though he said he would have preferred to play. Willie Bloomquist went 0-for-2 with a sac bunt as his replacement. He also committed an error at third base.