The memories of Team Dominican Republic's fast and furious rally one week ago were still fresh in the minds of Team USA. Luckily for the Americans, Danny Duffy and the U.S. bullpen took it upon themselves to quash another Dominican outburst Saturday night.
The efforts of the pitching staff proved to be heroic for the U.S., which squeaked out a 6-3 win in front of a sold-out crowd in San Diego to clinch the runner-up seed from Pool F and punch its ticket to a semifinal date against Japan in the WBC '17 semifinals in Los Angeles (Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV). Team USA's win also knocked out the defending champions, who had a plethora of scoring chances.
Duffy, the Americans' starter for its must-win World Baseball Classic matchup Saturday, was already trailing 2-0 when he faced another sticky situation in the bottom of the second. Gregory Polanco led off with a single for the Dominicans, followed by a Welington Castillo double to put runners on the corners with no outs. But the Royals ace retired the top of the Dominican order -- Jose Reyes, Manny Machado and Robinson Cano -- in a span of seven pitches to extinguish a near-certain Dominican scoring blaze.
"He slowed it down and our offense was able to build," center fielder Adam Jones said of Duffy.
That was just the first of a series of great escapes needed by American pitchers. In the fifth, reliever Pat Neshek wriggled out of a one-out jam with runners on second and third to preserve a 4-2 lead. Then Tyler Clippard stranded Polanco at second after his one-out double in the sixth.
The biggest heroics of the night, however, came in the seventh. Clippard returned to the mound and saw his 2-1 fastball crushed by Machado. The ball left Machado's bat with a 106.2 mph exit velocity and 26-degree launch angle; not only does that combination yield a hit 95 percent of the time, according to Statcast™, but it's also a home run almost as often. Batted balls with those exact specifications have left the yard more than nine out of 10 times in the Statcast™ Era (since 2015).
On this night, however, Jones leapt up and made a sensational catch to improbably keep Machado's would-be homer out of the seats. The U.S. was tested in the very next at-bat when Cano homered off Clippard to cut the U.S. lead to one, but Sam Dyson came on to retire the next two batters and put out yet another fire.
The steely resolve of the U.S. pitchers gave Andrew McCutchen enough time to create some breathing room with a two-run double in the eighth. Dyson and Luke Gregerson took it from there, quieting the Dominican bats with perfect frames in the eighth and ninth to send Team USA on to its second Classic semifinal appearance.
"I'm tipping my cap to all of our pitchers," said Jones. "Are you kidding me with what they did to that lineup? That lineup is unbelievable. But our pitching staff and our defense picked us up. That's how you win as a team."
The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. 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 the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.