Behind stellar pitching and home runs by Gregory Polanco and Nelson Cruz, the Dominican Republic secured a much-needed 3-0 victory over Venezuela on Thursday in the second round of the World Baseball Classic at Petco Park.
The win puts the defending champions right back in the running to advance to the semifinals at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The Dominican Republic will enter the final day of Pool F play on Saturday tied for second with the loser of Friday's United States-Puerto Rico game. Venezuela, while not yet eliminated, faces a much bleaker outlook, needing a win over Puerto Rico and for the United States to sweep Pool F to keep its tournament hopes alive.
"It's very difficult to win a tournament," Dominican manager Tony Pena said. "When we lost the first game with Puerto Rico, the boys responded very well. ... When you lose, I think you open your eyes and you say it's not so simple."
Three runs -- including the two solo homers from Polanco and Cruz -- were all the Dominican Republic would need, as starter Edinson Volquez and a dominant relief unit combined to toss an eight-hit shutout. Volquez lowered his Classic ERA to 1.13 with his performance. He struck out six over 4 1/3 innings before giving way to a bullpen that held Venezuela to just one hit throughout the remainder of the contest. Every Dominican reliever recorded at least one strikeout, including the Mets' Jeurys Familia, who struck out the side in the ninth to strand runners at the corners.
"We have a great bullpen," Pena said. "I told them before the game, I will not save anybody today. I want to use everybody at any time. Just be ready."
Venezuela's pitching staff turned in a valiant performance against a star-studded Dominican lineup, but it wasn't enough, as the team's bats ran cold. Jhoulys Chacin, who is competing for a spot in the Padres' rotation, allowed one run -- the Polanco homer -- over 4 1/3 innings. He averaged 92.9 mph on his four-seam fastball, per Statcast™, two miles per hour faster than his average with the Braves and Angels in 2016.
"He was incredible in this game," said Venezuela's manager, Omar Vizquel. "The whole game plan, he executed it precisely."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Polanco snaps the tie: Polanco broke the scoreless draw in the fifth inning and spoiled Chacin's outing with a solo homer. The Pittsburgh outfielder's first home run of the tournament was a pivotal one, jump-starting a Dominican lineup that had stranded four runners in the first four frames.
Abad escapes inherited jam: The Dominican Republic averted trouble in the fifth inning as it turned to its bullpen for a crucial at-bat. Volquez exited the game with Venezuela poised to take the lead with runners at the corners and one out, but Fernando Abad erased both inherited runners by inducing a double-play ball from Ender Inciarte. The play not only extinguished the Venezuelan momentum, it paved the way for the Dominican Republic to jump ahead on Polanco's leadoff homer in the next frame.
Machado shines defensively: As he has routinely throughout the tournament, Manny Machado provided multiple entries into the game's highlight reel. The Orioles third baseman was at his best in the sixth inning on a sharply hit ground ball from Miguel Cabrera. Machado ranged deep into foul territory and fired a jump-throw to first. The throw pulled Carlos Santana off the bag, but Santana recovered in time to get Cabrera out.
Machado also impressed earlier in the game, barehanding an Alcides Escobar bunt attempt in the fifth and securing the out on an off-balance throw to first. More >
"That boy, he's not human, he's from another plant," Polanco said on the MLB Network broadcast. "He's a great guy, he never gives up, and it's great to watch him play."
Too little, too late: Venezuela made it interesting in the ninth, with consecutive two-out singles by Jose Altuve and Yangervis Solarte, putting the tying run aboard. The late threat applied pressure to Dominican closer Familia, but Escobar struck out swinging on a 3-2 slider to end the game.
"The percentage of effectiveness, really, we're going to have a difficult time if we don't really tighten that piece up," said Vizquel.
MIGGY LEAVES EARLY
Cabrera became the latest Venezuelan player to sustain an injury, exiting in the sixth inning with back tightness, according to Vizquel. Cabrera appeared to injure himself after hustling down the line on Machado's defensive gem, and was seen wincing as he extended his foot toward first base, trying to beat the throw. Hernan Perez replaced Cabrera in the field at first base.
"His waist is still hurting, but he's a warrior," Vizquel said. "Hopefully, tomorrow, he'll be recuperating, and hopefully he'll wake up relaxed. And obviously, if he's doing well Saturday, well, logically we're going to include him. He's the captain of the team. We're going to see how he's going to feel for that timeframe." More >
With an RBI single in the seventh, Robinson Cano gave the Dominican Republic its first hit with a runner in scoring position of the second round. After going 0-for-6 with nine runners left on base against Puerto Rico on Tuesday, the Dominican lineup didn't fare much better vs. Venezuela, hitting 1-for-6 with RISP and stranding another nine.
"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 right here. So any time we get a good play and score a run, that's the way we react." -- Cruz, on celebrating his home run
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Two of Volquez's six strikeouts came against Cabrera, who has a .353 lifetime average against him in the Majors. In 22 career plate appearances vs. Volquez, Cabrera had never struck out.
WHAT'S NEXT Venezuela: Venezuela returns to Petco Park on Saturday to take on Puerto Rico in the early matchup of a split doubleheader that will conclude Pool F play at 3:30 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV. Puerto Rico won the first-round meeting between these teams, an 11-0 mercy-rule-shortened shutout in Jalisco, Mexico. Venezuela's tournament hopes could be dashed sooner, however, should Puerto Rico defeat the U.S. on Friday.
Dominican Republic: The Dominican Republic concludes the second round against the U.S. on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV. The Dominican team rallied from a five-run deficit for a stunning victory over the U.S. in Round 1 last week at Marlins Park.