It wasn't easy, but the reigning World Baseball Classic champions are a step closer to defending their title. The Dominican Republic completed its undefeated run through pool play Sunday and will now move on to San Diego after holding off a relentless Colombia team, 10-3, in 11 innings at Marlins Park.
Welington Castillo's two-run single off William Cuevas brought home the go-ahead runs in what ended up as a seven-run Dominican 11th inning, fueled by the Classic-specific rule that places runners on first and second starting in the 11th inning. Castillo's heroics capped a remarkable two-inning performance for the catcher, who played a huge role in saving the game for the Dominicans in the ninth when he made an exceptional tag at the plate to complete a double play and send the game into extras. Jean Segura's three-run double later in the 11th broke the game open and prevented Colombia, which mounted comebacks all afternoon, from doing so again.
The Dominicans finished pool play 3-0, narrowly avoiding a nightmare situation with the win. Had Colombia stolen the game from the heavy favorites, it would have automatically advanced to the second round while potentially forcing the D.R. to play a tiebreaker with the United States. Instead, Colombia dropped to 1-2 and was eliminated when Team USA defeated Canada later Sunday night.
"The team was unified, it was a family," Colombia manager Luis Urueta said. "They came for a purpose. After the first game, the motivation was automatic. And now after you lose, it's not what I would tell them but rather what they say."
While Sunday was Colombia's final Classic moment, the first-time qualifier made quite a mark on the tournament by pushing the defending champions to the brink. Coming off its comeback win over the United States on Saturday, the D.R. didn't figure to be seriously pushed by Colombia, a team made up mostly of Minor Leaguers with no Major League experience.
The Dominican lineup Sunday featured five MLB All-Stars, with two more on the bench and five more in the bullpen. But Colombia fought back from a 3-1 deficit, using Mauricio Ramos' RBI double to inch closer in the sixth and Jorge Alfaro's eighth-inning homer off Fernando Rodney to tie it.
Colombia then loaded the bases against Hansel Robles in the bottom of the ninth, but came up inches short when Oscar Mercado was tagged out at the plate by Castillo on a throw from Jose Bautista, the back end of a dramatic double play that sent the game to extras and sparked multiple ejections.
"It hurts a lot, of course," Urueta said. "We were 90 feet from surprising the world, from shocking the Dominicans. But it is a satisfaction, as I said, and that they jumped up with happiness and so much emotion."
The Dominicans' all-world lineup managed precious little against four Colombian relievers in the meantime. After starter Nabil Crismatt allowed three runs over the first three innings, Karl Triana, Ernesto Frieri, Dayan Diaz and Tayron Guerrero combined to throw seven innings of scoreless relief that made Colombia's comeback possible. But the Dominican bats woke up in the 11th, when RBI hits by Castillo, Segura and Carlos Santana resulted in a final score that doesn't come close to encapsulating the drama.
With a star-studded roster and a rabid following that flooded Marlins Park this weekend, the Dominicans brought expectations of dominance into this Classic. So far, they have delivered on those expectations, finishing pool play having outscored their three opponents, 26-8.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED To extras! The game came down to a fly ball off the bat of Reynaldo Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth. With one out, the bases loaded and the score tied, Rodriguez lined a medium-depth fly to Bautista in left field. Pinch-runner Mercado tagged from third. Bautista's throw home pulled catcher Castillo up the line and into Mercado, who Castillo collided with immediately after receiving the throw. Mercado was called out in a bang-bang play. He appeared to never reach the plate. But several members of the Colombia team left the dugout to argue vehemently with home-plate umpire Trip Gibson III, who ejected outfielder Tito Polo and Rodriguez.
"For me, he was out. I don't see anything controversial. Maybe the emotions got hold of the players," Ureuta said. "They were a few inches from qualifying over the Dominican Republic and the U.S., [which] would have been a feat." More >
Get excited, Phillies fans: Alfaro launched his game-tying homer 398 feet and at 109 mph, according to Statcast™, leading off the eighth against Rodney, one of the most accomplished Classic pitchers of all time. Alfaro muscled a high changeup over the left-center-field wall, and shot celebratory arrows -- Rodney's signature celebration -- upon returning to the dugout. But that wasn't the only way he made an impact Sunday. Alfaro also showed off his grade 70 arm throwing out Gregory Polanco attempting to steal second in the sixth. Alfaro is the Phillies' No. 3 prospect and No. 72 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com. More >
Manny is the man:Manny Machado's masterful tournament on both sides of the ball continued. He seemed to make a highlight-reel worthy play every inning and accounted for two of the D.R.'s three runs offensively. Machado's third-inning double drove in the go-ahead run and he scored later in the inning. In the first, he likely saved two runs by deftly snagging a bad-hop bouncer with the bases loaded. He added two more sensational plays in the third and fifth. He hit .357 in pool play. More >
Crazy caught-stealing: His team down by a run in the seventh, Polo tried to swipe second after leading off with a walk against Dellin Betances. Runners were 21 for 21 last season stealing bases against Betances, whose delivery makes him slow to the plate. So Polo ran, and D.R. catcher Castillo made a strong throw to second. But shortstop Segura was late covering, and had to dive across the base to catch Castillo's throw and tag Polo in what ended up being an important, spectacular, bang-bang play. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Dominican Republic: The defending World Baseball Classic champions are moving on to the second round. They'll travel to San Diego, where Round 2 begins Tuesday against Puerto Rico, the winner of Pool D.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico and Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.