SAN FRANCISCO -- It may look like a banana, but it's not. It's a plantain. And now this is bananas.
Fernando Rodney said on Monday night that it's the "power of the platanos" that is sending his Dominican Republic team on to a chance at winning the World Baseball Classic title on Tuesday against rival Puerto Rico at AT&T Park.
The 7-0 Dominicans are on the precipice after defeating the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 4-1, to advance to a championship game that is slated for 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT and will be broadcast in the U.S. on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
Rodney, who tidied up the game with his sixth save of the tournament, was in the Dominican dugout afterward holding a long green plantain that he said had been shipped here on Monday from his hometown of Santo Domingo.
"It was my lucky charm for the game. I kept it for the whole game," said Rodney, who celebrated his 36th birthday with the victory. "Tomorrow I'll keep it with me, too."
The teams meeting for the championship of the third edition of the Classic have proud Major League roots. They will be playing in the home of the defending World Series-winning Giants, a franchise with a long Latin heritage. Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando Cepeda is from Puerto Rico and Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal is from the Dominican, just to name a few.
Proud Dominican native Felipe Alou and his son Moises both played parts of their careers in San Francisco. Felipe, who managed his son on the Giants as recently as 2006, threw out the first pitch before the game on Monday night. Felipe also just happened to manage the Dominican team that was ousted from the Classic because of two first-round losses to the Dutch in 2009. Moises just happens to be the general manager who put this particular edition of Dominican team together.
Asked if he believed in the "power of the platanos," the younger Alou just laughed.
"Platanos is our main fruit over there," he said. "I check on the Twitter and I see the war of the platanos and the gouda cheese because we were playing the Netherlands. It means a lot in the Dominican. I even saw a guy in Miami in the stands with a bunch of platanos with him. Is there something to this? I don't think so. It's the heart. These guys got a lot of heart."
The Japanese won the first two Classic titles and were ousted by Puerto Rico in a semifinal game on Sunday. Previously, Puerto Rico -- in the second round at Marlins Park -- had eliminated Italy and the U.S. But during the Dominicans' seven-game winning streak, they have defeated Puerto Rico twice. Once to end each round.
On Tuesday, Dominican starter Edinson Volquez recovered from another difficult first inning to shut down the Dutch with five innings of two-hit ball to earn the victory. Against Italy last Tuesday, Volquez opened by walking the first three batters and allowing a three-run homer. The Dominican Republic came back with a late rally from a 4-0 deficit and won, 5-4.
Walks to the opening two batters of the game and an RBI groundout led to a 1-0 Netherlands lead that lasted into the bottom of the fifth against Dutch left-handed starter Diegomar Markwell.
Then the superior power of Carlos Santana, Moises Sierra, Jose Reyes and Miguel Tejada began to shine as the Dominicans scored four times in the fifth to ice the game.
Markwell, who hadn't even pitched in the U.S. Minor Leagues since 2003, had stymied the Dominican Republic on two hits and only three basesrunners through four innings before back-to-back one-out doubles by Santana and Sierra tied the score and put the Dominicans on the board.
"Well [Markwell's] contribution is what he did for himself in the offseason," said Dutch manager Hensley Meulens, a hitting coach with the Giants with still another tie to San Francisco. "He got in shape, lost 22 pounds and pitched great in this tournament. He beat Korea. He beat Cuba. And he was up, 1-0, until the fifth inning today. But we should have scored more for him. It was tough to pitch in this environment against a great lineup."
It was Sierra, who also made the defensive play of the game, sprinting over from his position in left field to tumble into the stands and snare a pop fly lofted by Andruw Jones that ended the first inning with a runner on third. The Dutch had only one more runner in scoring position later in the game.
A fan tried to catch the foul pop on a play that was eerily reminiscent to the Steve Bartman incident at Wrigley Field in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series between the Marlins and Cubs. Moises Alou just happened to be the left fielder on that one and Bartman deflected the ball. The Cubs blew a 3-0 lead and ultimately lost the game and the series.
"Hey, even the guy had glasses like Bartman," Alou said. "This time, the guy missed the ball and Sierra caught it. I didn't have to even think about it. The broadcasters had already mentioned what happened in '03 in Chicago. Maybe that's a good sign. He caught the ball and maybe we're going to win the championship."
The signs are all there for the Dominicans. That's the power of the platanos. And that's what they'll have you believe.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less