By Gabriel Fidler (@gabrielfidler)
The Dominican Republic left no doubt that it is one of the chief contenders for the world championship with a 9-3 drubbing of a good Venezuelan side. The 13th-ranked Dominican stroked 13 hits, including five of the extra-base variety, to take down eighth-rated Venezuela in the first game of Pool C in the World Baseball Classic.
Edinsón Vólquez looked dominant on the hill for the Dominican Republic to start the game, retiring Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Miguel Cabrera on only nine pitches. Vólquez got Andrus swinging, though Cabrera hit a ball to the warning track in left centre.
In the bottom of the frame, José Reyes led off with single, one of four hits for the Toronto Blue Jays’ shortstop. Erick Aybar attempted to bunt him over, but Venezuela’s starter Anibal Sánchez threw the ball away to put two on base.
Robinsón Canó made Sánchez pay, ripping a two-run double down the left field line. Another fielding miscue advanced Canó to third. Hanley Ramírez tapped a ball to shortstop and, with Canó going, Andrus tried to get the runner at third, but Canó beat the throw.
The Dominican Republic once more took advantage of the opportunity. Nelson Cruz laced a one-base hit to left and the Dominicans claimed a 3-0 advantage. Sánchez continued to struggle, walking Carlos Santana on four pitches, but the rain that had been falling since the beginning of the game became a downpour and time was called.
Play resumed after 50 minutes, but Sánchez’ night was over after retiring only a single batter and giving up three hits and a walk. His out was recorded on a strikeout of Edwin Encarnación after Canó’s double.
César Jiménez relieved, and got Venezuela out of the predicament on a nifty line drive double play. Ricardo Nanita hit a ball to right and Ramírez tagged and raced toward the plate, but Carlos González nailed Ramírez by two or three paces for the third out.
After the rain delay and long inning, Vólquez did not return, with Ángel Castro taking the hill in his place. Venezuela’s manager Luís Sojo used nine pitchers in the game, one short of the WBC record. Castro put two runners on base, but escaped the jam thanks to two marathon catches by Nanita in the cavernous left field foul territory of Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Dominicans were not stymied by the change in pitchers. Alejandro de Aza led off with a single and Reyes followed with a single to left. Erick Aybar once more attempted a bunt, but this time was unsuccessful because of a strong fielding play. Jiménez allowed the popup to drop and nailed de Aza at third.
Canó stepped up with one out and runners on first and second and ripped another two-bagger to the same location as his first double. The blow played Reyes, and Aybar would come around on a sacrifice fly by Encarnación after Édgar González relieved. González got a popup from Ramírez to finish the inning, but the Dominicans now held an overwhelming 5-0 advantage after two.
Pablo Sandoval got Venezuela on the board in the third inning. Marco Scutaro and Asdrubal Cabrera walked and, with one out, Miguel Cabrera blasted another ball that once more was caught at the warning track, this time in right field. Sandoval picked up his teammate, though, crushing a two-run double to left centre to make the score 5-2. Carlos González followed with an infield single, but Venezuela could not push across another run.
Édgar González got two strikeouts in a scoreless third, and Venezuela chipped away at the three-run margin in the fourth. Martín Prado laced a ball to Canó’s favourite spot and advanced to second, scampering to third on a ground ball. Prado raced home on a wild pitch, but it appeared that Venezuela would score again.
Scutaro blasted a two-base hit to left centre and, after a pitching change, Andrus reached on an infield single. Asdrubal Cabera struck out in a seven-pitch at bat, but Miguel Cabrera walked to load the bases. Sandoval could not replicate his success of the previous inning, lifting a ball to centre to end the frame.
New pitcher Jhoulys Chacín worked around two hits in the fourth to keep the margin at 5-3, but Venezuela could not capitalise in the top of the fifth despite putting two runners on base.
Chacín gave up a solo shot to Ramírez to lead off the bottom of the fifth and gave up a walk with one out, but got out of the inning on a twin killing. Neither club could mount a rally in the sixth.
With all momentum lost after the Ramírez home run, Venezuela went down 1-2-3 in the seventh. It was the second straight three-up, three-down inning for Dominican pitching.
The Dominican hitters put the game away in the seventh, though they did so with some help from Venezuela. Ramírez walked with one out and move to second on a wild pitch. The mistake caused a run to score after Nelson Cruz ripped a ground-rule double to plate the runners.
Santana and Nanita would reach on free passes to jam the sacks, and de Aza sent two of them on a double into the right field corner. The 9-3 margin would hold up, as both teams were scoreless the rest of the way.
Canó had three hits for the Dominican Republic and Cruz and de Aza joined him with a brace, though Reyes’ four safeties was the best of the WBC so far. The squad hit .350 with runners on base. Santana walked in all four of his plate appearances.
Six different batters had hits for Venezuela. Asdrubal Cabrera and Prado both walked twice. Sandoval had the only RBIs for the maroon-and-gold. Venezuela committed an error in the field, but also turned four double plays and had an outfield assist.
Sánchez took the loss and threw only 20 pitches, meaning he could start again in Pool B action. Pedro Strop was given a discretionary victory as the five outs he got were more than any other pitcher for the D.R. He struck out two and did not allow a baserunner.
Both teams will have a day off to regroup. The victors will take on Spain on Mar. 9 at 4 p.m. GMT. Venezuela will square off against host Puerto Rico later that day at 9:30 p.m. GMT. Stay tuned for more World Baseball Classic news, reviews, and analysis.