SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A 6-3 win over Spain on Saturday afternoon, coupled with Puerto Rico's victory over Venezuela, ensured the Dominican Republic of a spot in the second round of the World Baseball Classic in Miami at Marlins Park.
After being eliminated in the first round by The Kingdom of the Netherlands in the last Classic, this Dominican team had its sights set higher than just one-upping the 2009 version.
With Puerto Rico's 6-3 win over Venezuela, Spain is also officially eliminated. Most predicted routs in each of the country's games, so in many ways, this World Baseball Classic experience has been a successful one for Spain.
Both the D.R. (2-0) and Spain (0-2) will play one more game in Pool C, with Spain facing Venezuela (0-2) on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET and the D.R. taking on Puerto Rico (2-0) at 7:30 p.m.
"Until the games are over, I don't count the victory," Dominican manager Tony Pena said. "We won and we'll come into [Sunday] and we're going to play with the same intensity. I'm sure that group of players that is representing the Dominican Republic are going to do the same until we're done with this."
For the second straight game involving Spain, a contest that looked headed toward a blowout turned into a much tighter competition. The Dominican Republic broke things open with two runs in the second and three more in the third, appearing ready to cruise to victory.
The Dominican offense touched Spain's starter, Yoanner Negrin, on Nelson Cruz's RBI single that scored Edwin Encarnacion for the first run of the game. Then Cruz came home to make it 2-0 in the second on Ricardo Nanita's two-out single.
The Dominicans would score three more an inning later. Jose Reyes led off with a walk and went to third on Negrin's errant pickoff throw. A Robinson Cano double and two more walks chased Negrin before Cruz drove in his second run of the game with another single that brought home Cano. Encarnacion scored his second run on a Carlos Santana groundout to make it 5-0. Santana's solo homer in the eighth made it a 6-1 game.
Dominican starter Samuel Deduno was dominant, going four shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out five. Spain's offense, which sputtered in a 3-0 loss to Puerto Rico on Friday night, didn't wake up on Saturday until late. Trailing by five runs entering the ninth, Spain had no trouble getting to Jose Veras. With the bases loaded, however, Rafael Alvarez made the final out against Fernando Rodney, who had walked Barbaro Canizares, his first batter, to force in a run. Veras' final pitch, which struck Paco Figueroa, ricocheted off Santana's left ribs, prompting the D.R. trainer to examine the Indians star catcher, who remained in the game.
"You know that with a home run we could have tied it, and with Barbaro at the plate, he was the right man at the right time, but that didn't happen," Spain manager Mauro Mazzotti said. "He had a green light. It was his decision."
Spain had mounted a bit of a threat in the sixth, when Figueroa walked to lead off the inning and eventually made it to third on a groundout and a two-out infield single by Yunesky Sanchez, who went 3-for-4. But Alfredo Simon struck out Jesus Merchan to end the inning. The first run came in the seventh, when Salomon Manriquez led off with a walk and moved to second on a wild pitch. Engel Beltre laid down a beauty of a bunt toward Cano at second base for a hit, and when Cano tried to shovel the ball to first with his glove and it instead went by him, Manriquez was able to trot home.
"As I said before, they are not an easy opponent," Pena said of Spain. "You can see how in that baseball game, when you thought that the game was easy, in the end you could feel things a little bit tense. "
For the second time in as many games, Spain's bullpen did its best to give the squad a chance to get back into the game. Aside from the single allowed by Nick Schumacher that allowed Cano to score, Spain's relievers clamped down on the Dominican offense. They were charged with no runs over the next 5 1/3 innings before Santana's blast off of Rhiner Cruz.
"They had a great number of pitchers," Nelson Cruz said. "As we said before, we didn't know most of them, and in the case of [Rhiner] Cruz it was the only one that we had some knowledge about. And they never gave up, as we said. There is no weak opponent in this Classic, and we have to stay on top of them for nine innings. "
"I think that Major League Baseball will be very happy with the role we've been playing here," said Mazzotti, who was still optimistic about picking up Spain's first World Baseball Classic win on Sunday against Venezuela. "We are competing with the strongest teams in the world in this sport, and as we can see, we can play, but from the beginning we have to walk as few people as possible, and get timely hits."