The last time the Dominican Republic visited Hiram Bithorn Stadium the World Baseball Classic turned out to be a nightmare.
Two losses to the Dutch in Round 1 and the Dominicans were done. Four years later, the Dominicans capped a perfect run through Pool C play with a 4-2 win over host Puerto Rico on Sunday night and now head to Marlins Park as the only remaining unbeaten in the tournament.
“To win any kind of tournament long or short the chemistry is the most important thing, the integration, the unity on and off the field,” said three-time WBC veteran Miguel Tejada, who starred on the 2006 Dominican team, which lost in the semifinals.
“The difference this year is this team came with a lineup where every day it’s the same people, and that’s different than the previous years. That’s why we have such good chemistry because everybody knows what role everybody has, and that’s why everybody is happy.”
The Dominicans, who have seven players who have played in the MLB All-Star Game (Tejada, Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Fernando Rodney and Edinson Volquez), fell behind 2-1 in the fourth Sunday when Indians shortstop Mike Aviles blasted a two-run home run on the first pitch from reliever Lorenzo Barcelo.
But Cano quickly erased that 2-1 deficit with a solo home run off Jose De La Torre to open the fifth. The Dominicans then took the lead an inning later when White Sox center fielder Alejandro De Aza stroked a one-out double to center off 18-year-old right-hander Jose Berrios. They tacked on another run an inning later after a Tejada double and a Cruz RBI groundout.
Sojo won’t return
Luis Sojo, a punching bag for Venezuela’s fans disappointed that a team loaded with 10 All-Stars couldn’t make it out of the first round, will not be returning as Venezuela’s manager in the next World Baseball Classic.
Edwin Zerpa, the President of the Venezuelan Baseball Federation, said he had already discussed it with Sojo, who managed the team to a semifinal appearance in 2009 and second-round trip in 2006, before the team entered the tournament. Venezuela rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat winless Spain 11-6 Sunday and finished 1-2 in pool play.
Zerpa also said he plans to tell the International Baseball Federation when it meets April 15th in Tokyo that teams loaded with major-league players need more time to prepare for the WBC. MLB has ultimate say.
“The most important thing is we should be given more time to train as a team,” Sojo said. “Two [exhibition] games are not enough and we’re not here to give excuses. But we’re also here to try to resolve things that can be positive, not only for one group of teams but for all. I mean, it should be equal for everyone.”
Cuba, for instance, played six exhibition games in its tune-up for the WBC. It played four games in Taiwan in mid-February and then a couple of exhibition games in Japan. The Japanese played five exhibition games between Feb. 17 and Feb. 28 before opening WBC play. Most teams in Pool C an Pool D only got to play two exhibition games.
Dominican manager Tony Pena said he thinks WBC teams should spend 15 days working together before the start of training camp before returning to their teams for two weeks and then joining their WBC teams. “We’re talking about a month of preparation,” Pena said. “All the players are at 75, 80 percent of their physical conditioning by then.”
The pitch total for any single outing is capped at 80 pitches in the second round and 95 in the championship round according to WBC rules. No pitcher is allowed to take the mound three days in a row.
“I learned a lot of good things being here with my teammates,” said Alvarez , who will rejoin the Marlins in Jupiter on Tuesday. “I came here to have fun and to do a good job. I feel like I came out a better pitcher because of that experience. We didn’t win and that’s a disappointment, but it was a great experience.”