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Classic stars get back to regular-season mode

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The World Baseball Classic was unforgettable for players and fans who took the ride to the exhilarating finish in San Francisco. Now it's back to the real world and grind of a long season, after what Edinson Volquez of the champion Dominican Republic referred to as "another World Series."

No player in the 2013 Classic had the impact of Robinson Cano, who led his Dominican brotherhood to its first Classic title, ending Japan's reign, with his smoking-hot bat, slick glove and leadership.

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If Cano now carries a heavier burden with his Major League employer in the Bronx than any other Classic performer, he clearly has the ability and character to handle it.

Tony Pena, the Dominican Republic manager, watched Cano grow into a strong leadership role during the Classic. In New York, where Pena serves on manager Joe Girardi's coaching staff, those roles have been assumed by accomplished veterans Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera as Cano has matured into one of the game's premier players.

"I haven't thought about that," Cano said, "but I was trying to be the same guy [in the Classic]. If there's a guy that I can help, I'll always be there. If I can say anything to help the team, I'm always going to be there. [In New York], you've got Jeter, A-Rod, Mariano. All those guys have been there before. What I'm trying to do right now is be there for them and take the good and the bad.

"I would say one day [in New York], my time is going to come."

The future is now. With recovery time from postseason surgeries and a rash of injuries stripping the lineup of Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson early in the season, Cano has taken on increased responsibilities. His success in the Classic -- as its Most Valuable Player -- gave the perennial All-Star a springboard into the new season.

The biggest stars of the Classic came from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, who met in the final. Along with Cano, shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Fernando Rodney and starters Samuel Deduno and Volquez were the headliners for the champion Dominicans, who also featured Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana and Alejandro De Aza.

Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios and Angel Pagan were Puerto Rico's leaders, thrilling their homeland fans as the team upset Japan in the semifinals before bowing to Deduno and the deep Dominican bullpen in the title game.

Molina and Beltran will continue to power the Cardinals. Rios gives the White Sox a total package in right, alongside center fielder De Aza, and Pagan serves as the reigning World Series champion Giants' leadoff catalyst and center fielder.

The big Classic casualty was Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Playing third base alongside Reyes in the title game, he suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb diving for a ground ball. Surgery will keep Ramirez sidelined until sometime around mid-May, according to club projections. His bat was missed in an opening series against the Giants, who took two of three at Dodger Stadium.

While Cano tries to lift the undermanned Yankees, the other driving force for the Dominican outfit -- Reyes -- is getting comfortable in his new environment with the Blue Jays. Like Cano, Reyes has the electrifying talent and personality to inspire teammates and bring fans out of their seats.

The primary focus in Toronto has been the arms buildup, but Reyes' impact is expected to be profound on the Rogers Centre artificial surface.

Pagan got off to a flying start with four hits in his first eight at-bats against the Dodgers. Pagan wore Puerto Rico's colors with immense pride, but he was happy to get back with his San Francisco teammates.

"The best thing that's happened to me was to win a [World Series] championship," said Pagan, who came to the Giants from the Mets after the 2011 season. "A lot of players have 10, 15 years in the Majors and made a ton of money and never had a taste."

Volquez, who pitched brilliantly in subduing the Kingdom of the Netherlands for five innings in the semifinals, is one of manager Bud Black's top-shelf starters with the Padres. Volquez was unable to carry the momentum of his performance into his season debut, yielding six earned runs in three innings on Opening Day against the Mets.

The Classic star who has disappeared entirely from the Major League scene is Deduno, who was sent down to Minor League camp by the Twins. Deduno paid a price for his effort in the title game with a groin strain.

"It's unfortunate," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said, "because he had such a good WBC. But there's nothing we can do now."

Deduno remains on Minnesota's rotation depth chart.

"Samuel Deduno did a great job for us, through the WBC," Pena said. "He pitched three games for us, three successful games. The job that he had done, it has been unbelievable."

With saves in seven of his unbeaten team's eight wins, Rodney was the Dominicans' staff anchor -- and class clown, punctuating each victory with his imaginary arrow to the heavens. Fernando has taken his unique gifts back to the Rays, looking to follow his magical 2012 with something similar.

Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons was one of the shining stars of the Classic, hitting .333, slugging .633 and leading the tournament with 10 runs scored. Atlanta fans expect big things from this exciting athlete as the Braves challenge the defending National League East champion Nationals.

Canada didn't last past the first round, but it wasn't the fault of the Mariners' Michael Saunders or the Twins' Justin Morneau, who hit .727 and .636, respectively. They're now being counted on to help lift their clubs into contention in tough divisions.

Adrian Gonzalez brought his loud bat and defense to Team Mexico, which knocked off the U.S. but couldn't move past the first round after a loss to Italy. Nick Punto, Gonzalez's Dodgers teammate, hit .421 in five games for Italy, and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs' promising first baseman, collected six RBIs for Italy.

David Wright, Team USA's most productive star with a Classic-high 10 RBIs in just four games, had to bow out of the Classic with a rib cage injury. Manager Joe Torre's club wasn't the same without Wright's booming bat -- he had the team's lone home run -- and leadership.

Wright is the Mets' centerpiece and one of the game's premier all-around players. He was in the lineup as his club got off to a rousing start against the Padres.

What Cano is to the Yankees, Wright is to the Mets -- an indispensable presence and a classic performer.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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