In the most anticipated game of the 2017 World Baseball Classic thus far, the Dominican Republic edged the United States 7-5 on Saturday night in Miami and did so in dramatic fashion (Official box score).
Here are eight things to know:
1. The D.R. outfield defense helped USA early
With a runner on first base and two outs in the top of the third inning, Adam Jones sent a well-struck ball to the right-center gap. As Dominican center fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Nelson Cruz approached the ball, it appeared the inning would harmlessly end.
Instead, they nearly collided, Marte just whiffed on it, the ball landed in Cruz’s glove before popping out when they made slight contact. Marte initially thought Cruz did catch it and the ball just kind of laid there while Jones raced around the bases.
He’d be held at the last minute instead of attempting the inside-the-park home run (though it was ruled an error after the play was complete) and it paid off, as Christian Yelich would single him home.
Just like that, it was 2-0 USA when it shouldn’t have been.
Call this foreshadowing, though, because the duo would atone for themselves come the eighth inning.
2. Marcus Stroman was a beast
USA was coming off an extra-innings win where almost the entire bullpen was emptied. The worry was the powerful Dominican lineup could get to Stroman early and then really tax the tired bullpen. Instead, Stroman was outstanding for his country.
Most importantly, Stroman was efficient enough to get through 4 2/3 innings. And they were scoreless innings. The defense behind him was good, of course, but Stroman induced soft contact and missed bats throughout. He gave up only three hits while striking out four and walking none. He was chased with two outs in the fifth on a Starling Marte single, but it had eyes and wasn’t hit overly hard.
In all, Stroman was a major reason that USA should have won this game. As it turned out, he was the only true bright spot on the mound.
3. The team that won the longball battle won the game
, but we’ve gotten to a place in baseball where the team that hits more home runs usually wins the game. It’s not complicated. Pitching and defense are exceptional these days, but the offensive players are extremely strong and can run into a few in a game as well. So whoever does the best possible thing a batter can do more times than the opponent is more likely to score more runs. For whatever reason, it makes a lot of people really mad when we lay it out this plainly, but I can’t see how hitting more home runs is bad in any way, shape or form.
In this one, the Dominican Republic hit three home runs compared to zero from USA. The big blow of the game was a three-run job we’ll cover in a second.
4. The Dominican rally in the sixth made it a game
It was 5-0 USA heading into the bottom of the sixth inning and the game was threatening to get boring. Tanner Roark didn’t have good stuff or command, however, and the Dominican Republic’s lineup is far too potent to not take advantage. Manny Machado clubbed a gargantuan home run to get things started.
It was followed by a pair of walks to Robinson Cano and Jose Bautista. Carlos Santana then singled home a run to cut the lead to 5-2. The inning would end with runners on second and third when Adrian Beltre hit a rocket to dead center, but it was right at Adam Jones and hung long enough to be an inning-ending lineout.
It was evident that Roark was cooked, but USA manager Jim Leyland went with him to start the next inning and he allowed a Starling Marte double. Roark was removed, but Marte would score on a Welington Castillo double, cutting the lead to 5-3.
5. And then they dropped the hammer, against Andrew Miller, no less
Even with the lead down to two, things seemed in hand for USA, given that Andrew Miller was getting the ball for the eighth inning. We don’t know if he was set to work two innings or not, because it wouldn’t end up being a discussion point.
Jose Bautista was hit by a slider that Miller buried a bit too much before Carlos Santana hit a grounder up the middle that was just out of the reach of the USA infield -- if a few feet to the right, it could have been a double play. Instead, two runners were on base for Nelson Cruz and, as noted earlier, he atoned for the outfield mishap in a huge way with this three-run blast.
It’s amazing that he kept that fair. And just like that, it was 6-5 Dominican Republic. Until the next batter, that is, who happened to be Marte with a home run to right field. Yep, both men atoned for the outfield thing in the third inning. That’s fun, unless you were pulling for USA.
6. The crowd was huge by Marlins Park standards
The Marlins ranked 27th in MLB in attendance in 2016, averaging a tick over 21,000 per game, and we aren’t used to seeing that place full. In fact, almost every game the upper deck is basically entirely empty. It was packed to the gills, even the upper deck, with fans of both teams. The announced attendance was 37,446, which was the largest in Marlins Park history. Wow. Even more than the opener of the stadium for the Marlins.
The Dominican fans clearly outnumbered the American fans and it was a raucous atmosphere, especially early before the USA lead took the wind out of their sails to an extent. This was exactly the type of scene Bud Selig had in mind when he started this World Baseball Classic over a decade ago.
In fact, this entire game and atmosphere were probably the best pro-WBC argument that could possibly be made. It was an unbelievable game with a huge comeback, a major game-changing home run and an atmosphere that many in attendance were comparing to a World Series game. You cannot even come close to that in a spring training game.
7. USA gets Canada next
It’s now a must-win game for USA, when it looked for most of Saturday’s game like it wouldn’t matter. It will take place at 7 p.m. ET in Marlins Park with USA serving as the home team.
There is plenty of good news here for America, though. First off, Canada is a far inferior team, talent-wise. So a win should be in the cards. If that happens and Dominican Republic beats a far inferior Colombia, USA advances to the second round. If USA loses and Dominican Republic beats Colombia, there’s a good chance USA gets by in the tiebreaker (rules here).
The most likely scenario is USA and Dominican Republic both win and advance to the second round, but upsets do happen. Just ask Israel.
8. The Dominican Republic faces Colombia, looking to keep their winning streak alive
The Dominican Republic hasn’t lost a World Baseball Classic game since 2009. Not only did they win it all in 2013, they ran the table. Thanks to the thrilling comeback victory on Saturday, the Dominican Republic now has a 10-game winning streak in the World Baseball Classic.
Colombia is on tap Sunday for a 12:30 p.m. ET start in Marlins Park, and the smart money is on that streak being extended to 11.
This one goes to 11? For the Dominican Republic, it will, thanks mostly to a huge comeback Saturday night against USA.
Relive the live blog from the game here: