SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The World Baseball Classic has delivered game after game of exciting, passionate baseball, and the Dominican Republic’s showdown with Venezuela was no exception. Edinsón Vólquez outduelled Jhoulys Chacín, and Gregory Polanco and Nelson Cruz tapped into their Plátano Power for momentous home runs in the D.R.’s 3-0 victory.
Both nations put runners on in the early going, but Vólquez and Chacín both repeatedly escaped any damage, getting key defensive plays and huge strikeouts in a game that was scoreless until the fifth inning. Vólquez ended his night with two runners on in the fifth, but Fernando Abad induced a big grounder that José Reyes and Robinsón Canó turned into a double play.
Gregory Polanco led off bottom of the frame with a line drive to right field that kept carrying for a go-ahead solo homer. The Dominicans poured out of their dugout in celebration, and their fans went wild on the first base side. Chacín came out of the game two batters later, wrapping up a 4 1/3 inning, three-hit, three-walk, three-K performance.
Abad and Robles sent down Venezuela 1-2-3 with two strikeouts in the sixth, as the Dominican pitching staff piled up the strikeouts. A two-out double by Carlos Santana in the bottom of the frame threatened to add another to the lead, but Gregory Infante got Starling Marté to fly out to deep centre to end the threat.
Dellin Betances gave up a hit to Yangervis Solarté in the seventh, but punched out the red-hot Alcides Escobar to end the frame, and the D.R. finally added an insurance run in the latter half of the inning.
Gregory Polanco reached on a hit, but was forced out after Wellington Castillo popped up to short and Escobar allowed it to drop. A two-out walk to Manny Machado would keep the frame going, and set up a Canó RBI-double to plate the sprinting Castillo. With two runners in scoring position, the Dominicans could have added more, but Bruce Rondón got José Bautista swinging at strike three to give Venezuela a fighting chance.
However, Álex Colomé added two whiffs to the Dominican Republic’s tally in the eighth, working around an Ender Inciarte liner that clipped Canó’s glove. The hustling Braves’ outfielder motored to second, but was stranded there when Hernán Pérez struck out. Pérez had entered the gone inning earlier for Miguel Cabrera, who exited with back stiffness at an inopportune moment.
Petco Park has been playing as a pitcher’s park all round, but Nelson Cruz started the bottom of the eighth with an opposite field shot down the right field line that kept sailing for his second fourbagger of the round. The Dominican bench emptied and José Reyes hip-bumped the Mariners’ slugger as Carlos Martínez showered him with water.
Jeurys Familia struck out the side in the ninth around a pair of hits from José Altuve and Solarté, and the D.R. moved to 1-1 in Pool F and 4-1 in the WBC.
After the game, Dominican manager Tony Peña talked about coming back from a tough loss to the United States two nights earlier. “It’s very difficult to win a tournament, and when we lose the first game with Puerto Rico, the boys responded very well. We’re looking a team that is completely in shape, 100 percent.”
I noted Martínez’ shower after his home run and asked Cruz how much fun it was coming in after the home run. “We get excited any play that we make. It feels like we’re little kids. We enjoy it, we have fun. I mean, that’s the way we play growing up, and that’s the way we play here.”
Venezuela is now 0-2, and will need a miracle to advance to Los Angeles. However, the South American team was faced with a similar situation in round one and came through on the tiebreaker.
“Well, we’ve lived that experience with a tie game, a possible tiebreaker,” observed Venezuelan skipper Omar Vizquel. We didn’t want to relieve that experience again, and I think the game with Puerto Rico, we were against the wall, and we needed to [score] some runs to survive. We’re going to have a difficult time if we don’t really tighten [the offence] up.”
The D.R. fell one strikeout short of the all-time record for a Classic game. Its 14 whiffs were just shy of a record accomplished three times, with the last in Japan’s 2013 win over China. Vólquez struck out six in 4 1/3 shutout frames, walking two and giving up four hits. Abad earned the win and Familia the save, while Chacín took the tough luck loss.
Both teams will have a day off tomorrow as Puerto Rico and the United States square off in a battle of 1-0 teams. Both nations won their first game in round two, while Puerto Rico has won four in-a-row this WBC. The heavyweight bout will start at 7 p.m. PDT (3 a.m. GMT).
Venezuela will take on Puerto Rico in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at 12:30 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. GMT), while the Dominican Republic will tangle with the USA at 7 p.m. (3 a.m.) later that day. Extra Innings will have live coverage, photos, and analysis @extrainnings_bb.