By Gabriel Fidler (@gabrielfidler)
Chris Colabello and Italy gave the Dominican Republic a scare, leading the heavily favoured Dominicans until the seventh inning. José Reyes and Robinsón Canó joined Colabello in hitting home runs in a 5-4 Dominican victory.
Colabello hit a huge longball against Canada and got Italy off to a good start in the first inning with another. With the score 1-0 and runners on the corners, Italy’s designated hitter stroked a three-run tater to right field off Edinsón Vólquez. Vólquez allowed only Colabello’s hit in the inning, but got into trouble by walking the first three batters of the game.
Italy’s Tiago da Silva, a top starter in the Italian Baseball League, held the Dominican lineup scoreless in the bottom of the frame, though he gave up a double to Canó. Neither club scored in the second.
Vólquez settled down quickly after the homer and pitched a second-straight 1-2-3 frame in the third. Reyes got the Dominican Republic one run closer with a home run to lead off the third. The blast hit the top of the foul pole in right field and bounced fair. Reyes had only missed a home run to same spot by a few feet in the first.
Da Silva kept dealing into the fifth inning, mixing a change and curveball in the mid-70s/high-110s with a fastball that regularly touched 90/145. Vólquez ran out of fuel in the fifth, giving up two hits with one out, but Juan Cedeño and Lorenzo Barcelo bailed him out of the jam.
Da Silva got two Ks in the fifth and Italy still held a 4-1 advantage going into the sixth, despite having only mustered three safeties.
Italy’s starter finally tired in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Canó blasted a solo home run and Marco Mazzieri, Italy’s skipper, pulled da Silva. Nick Pugliese came in to face the 4-5-6 hitters for the Dominican Republic, and they unloaded two hits, while a walk with two outs jammed the bases. Pat Venditte entered and got a fly out to keep the score at 4-2.
Pedro Strop followed Barcelo with more dominant relief work in the seventh, and the Dominicans unloaded against Venditte. With one down, Reyes hit a single up-the-middle and was followed by a safety from Erick Aybar. Canó blooped a ball into shallow left field that fell between the shortstop and left fielder, though the official scoring was an error on the shortstop.
With the bases loaded, a walk to Edwin Encarnación plated Reyes, and Aybar came round on a sacrifice fly from Hanley Ramírez. Nelson Cruz then drove in Canó with a RBI-single, and the Dominicans had their first lead of the game at 5-4.
Italy had two final chances to score, but Santiago Casilla hurled a scoreless eighth and Fernando Rodney came on for the save. Rodney gave up a walk, but had a three-up, three-down inning thanks to a strikeout and a double play.
The victory moved the Dominican Republic one win away from a guaranteed spot in the semifinals, though they will have to face the winner of U.S.A.-Puerto Rico to qualify. Italy drops into the loser’s bracket in the double-elimination second round. They will play the loser of the same game, with only the winning team staying alive.
Canó had his fourth consecutive three-hit game to lead the Dominican. He scored twice, as did Reyes, who joined Cruz with a brace of hits. The Dominican Republic was only 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left eight on, but was aided by a strong defence that did not commit an error.
Punto had two of Italy’s four hits, raising his Classic average to .467, though the team walked six times against only five strikeouts. They had very few chances against a dominant Dominican bullpen that threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed only one hit. Strop earned the win, Casilla the hold, and Rodney his third save of the WBC. Venditte took the loss.
Italy will have to play on back-to-back days with their game against the other losing team from the pool. The game will be held at Marlins Park on Mar. 13 at 7 p.m. EST (midnight GMT on Mar. 14). The Dominicans will get the day off before hitting the field on Mar. 14 at 7 p.m. EST.
Both games will be covered here, along with all the rest of the World Baseball Classic, so check back for more coverage, analysis, and other information.