Author: Matthew Pouliot

Dominican Republic's Cano greets teammates after defeating Italy in their World Baseball Classic game in Miami

Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes power Dominican Republic past Italy


Trying to pull off another stunner, Italy jumped out early against the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, only to see its 4-0 lead whittled away in a 5-4 loss.

After Dominican starter Edinson Volquez at one point threw 11 straight balls in the first, Alex Liddi hit a sac fly and Chris Colabello followed with a three-run homer. Volquez, though, rebounded from there, pitching into the fifth and keeping the game within reach for the powerful Dominican offense.

Jose Reyes got the Dominicans on the board with a solo shot in the third, and Robinson Cano, who finished 3-for-4, delivered another in the sixth.

The key play in the game came with two on and one out in the seventh. With Reyes and Erick Aybar about and one out, Cano lofted a fly to shallow left. Left fielder Mike Costanzo froze initially and couldn’t get to it. Shortstop Anthony Granato almost grabbed it on the run, only to have it go off his glove for what was originally ruled a very tough error. It was later changed to hit.

That loaded the bases for Edwin Encarnacion, who walked. Hanley Ramirez followed with a game-tying sac fly, and Nelson Cruz delivered a broken-bat liner into shallow left for an RBI single, giving the Dominican Republic its first lead.

Santiago Casilla and Fernando Rodney finished the game from there. The Dominican bullpen allowed a total of one hit over 4 2/3 scoreless innings.

The Dominican Republic will now face the winner of the Team USA and Puerto Rico game for a spot in the WBC semifinals. Italy goes into the loser’s bracket in this modified double-elimination tourney.

Overcoming Torre is Team USA’s biggest win yet

Joe Torre

Four sacrifice bunt attempts in one game.

I’d be pretty disgusted if it were the Marlins trying such a thing to beat the Mets in mid-August. But, no, that’s what Team USA did on Sunday on its way to topping Canada 9-4.

Technically, it will go into the books at three sacrifice bunt attempts, since Shane Victorino merely fouled back his one attempt before later striking out in the seventh. The first two were successful, the second especially so. The first, coming in the second, was put down by Adam Jones with two on and none out. No runs followed, though. Ben Zobrist’s bunt in the fourth resulted in a Taylor Green error, scoring a run and opening the door for a two-run inning.

The last bunt was a huge flop, with Zobrist popping one up for the first out in the eighth. Fortunately, Jones bailed the team out afterwards, delivering a two-run double to put Team USA on top for good.

So, yes, everything worked out in the end. Even though Joe Torre’s team tried to give away four outs. Even though Giancarlo Stanton, the country’s (and maybe the world’s) best power hitter, sat out in favor of Shane Victorino. Even though Torre was more worried about making sure everyone got into the game than trying to win it.

And that last part may be the biggest problem of all. Joe Torre works for Major League Baseball. He made commitments to teams in return for acquiring the services of players. While the managers of Japan and the Dominican Republic are doing the best they can, within the WBC’s pitcher usage rules, to win their games, Torre is going above and beyond; making sure everyone gets a turn, not using a reliever after he’s already warmed up once and not letting any of his true relievers pitch more than an inning.

Of course, Torre isn’t exactly a tactical genius even when he doesn’t have to deal with such limitations. Witness today’s eighth-inning gem to intentionally walk light-hitting left-hander Pete Orr in a 5-4 game to load the bases for a left-handed-hitting pinch-hitter. Given that it meant a walk could force in a run, I doubt it improved the U.S.’s chances of staying ahead in the eighth. What it definitely did do is guarantee that Joey Votto would bat in the ninth, with Justin Morneau due up fourth, something that might have made a big difference had the U.S. offense not finally found itself and, absent any sac bunt attempts, piled on four runs in the top of the inning.

At age 73, this is probably Torre’s last time in a dugout. He was pretty close to a Hall of Famer as a player and he’s certainly going in as a manager after all of his success with the Yankees. And deservedly so. It’d be a nice victory lap for him if Team USA could somehow win the World Baseball Classic in its third try. Torre, though, needs to back off a bit, because he’s really hurting the cause right now.

Ugly brawl highlights yet another flaw in the World Baseball Classic

Canada-Mexico brawl

One of the ugliest scenes to take place on a baseball field in recent years just took place in Canada’s defeat of Mexico on Saturday. And while none of the participants should be let off the hook — I’d have been in favor of stopping the game and throwing both countries out of the tournament — there’s no way this would have happened if not for the World Baseball Classic’s ill-conceived tiebreaker rules.

Let’s set the scene. Canada was up 9-3 in the top of the ninth on its way to an easy win, it’s first of the tournament. Yet, that might not have been enough for its hopes of advancing. Catcher Chris Robinson sought to help Canada add to its lead by dropping down a bunt single to start the frame.

Now, in a major league game, that’s pure bush league. In the minors as well. Probably as low down as college and high school.

In the World Baseball Classic, though, it’s smart baseball. The tiebreakers hinge on run margin, and with four teams playing three games apiece in each pool, tiebreakers are going to come into play at least as often as not. It already did in Pool A, which produced three 2-1 teams. Korea went home because its run margin wasn’t as strong as that of The Netherlands or Chinese Taipei.

Of course, Mexico didn’t see it the same way Canada did. About to fall to 1-2 and get eliminated from the tournament, they weren’t having any of it. At third baseman Luis Cruz’s direction, Arnold Leon threw at Rene Tosoni twice, hitting him the second time and touching off a massive brawl that left several players bruised and might well have resulted in some more significant injuries.

All that needed to happen to prevent this scenario was for the tiebreaker rules to be tied to runs allowed, instead of run differential. It’s still far from perfect, but then, this tournament will never be anything close to perfect as long as MLB wants to try to play it alongside a 162-game season. I imagine we’ll see it changed next time around. Assuming that there is a next time around.

Dominican Republic beats Spain 6-3, moves to 2-0

Nelson Cruz, Salomon Manriquez
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Robinson Cano went 3-for-5 and Carlos Santana homered as the Dominican Republic took another step towards advancing in the WBC on Saturday, beating Spain 6-3.

The Dominican team scored five times in the second and third innings off Yoanner Negrin, with Nelson Cruz driving in two of the runs. The Spanish bullpen did solid work afterwards, but the offense struggled until mounting a rally in the ninth.

Spain got its first run of the tournament in the seventh when Engel Beltre tried to bunt for a hit with a man on second. Cano was late getting to it and tried to scoop with his glove and flip the ball in one motion, only to whiff on it entirely. The ball rolled into right field, allowing Salomon Manriquez to score and Beltre to reach second.

The game got more interesting in the ninth, as likely Astros closer Jose Veras failed to shut the door. After Spain scored a run, the Dominicans brought in Fernando Rodney, who walked in a run to make it 6-3. Rodney finally struck out Rafael Alvarez to end it.

Samuel Deduno struck out five in four scoreless innings after drawing the start for the D.R.

The Dominican Republic is now 2-0 in pool play and would clinch a spot in Round 2 if Puerto Rico beats Venezuela later tonight. They should also hold the edge in any tiebreakers if they happen to finish tied with Puerto Rico and Venezuela at 2-1. They’ll next play Puerto Rico on Sunday. Spain is 0-2  headed into its finale against Venezuela.