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Torrid stretch earns Cano Classic MVP

SAN FRANCISCO -- Robinson Cano knocked baseballs all over the field and kept the Dominican Republic offense rolling through three different stops on the road to a championship. He deftly made defensive gems look effortless and celebrated with his talented teammates, showing a wide smile and a confident swagger.

In other words, he played like Robinson Cano, and for that he was honored as the Most Valuable Player of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, picked from among a star-studded cast on the championship team from the Dominican Republic as the best of the best.

After the Dominicans closed out their undefeated run to the Classic title in convincing fashion with a 3-0 defeat of Puerto Rico on Tuesday night at AT&T Park, Cano carried the MVP trophy around with him but made it clear he shared it with his teammates.

"Well, this is something that you never are going to get it done by yourself, so I want to thank the guys, my teammates, the manager, also the Dominican team for giving me that opportunity to be here with all these guys, all this great talent," Cano said. "Without my teammates, I would have never won an MVP, so I would say it's not only me, it's about the whole team."

Cano, the All-Star second baseman of the New York Yankees, won MVP honors in pool play as well as group play before doing the same for the tournament following the championship round at AT&T Park, where the Dominicans beat the Netherlands in Monday night's semifinal before topping rival Puerto Rico on Tuesday to win their first Classic title.

Cano finished the tournament batting .469 (15-for-32) with four doubles, two home runs, six RBIs and six runs scored, leading all Classic players with 15 hits -- a single-Classic record. Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan was the MVP in each of the first two editions of the tournament.

A 30-year-old left-handed hitter, Cano was a fixture in the No. 3 spot in a star-studded Dominican lineup and provided the offensive fireworks to propel the D.R. to San Francisco. In pool play -- at San Juan, Puerto Rico -- Cano went 9-for-15, following that up with a 5-for-12 performance in group play, which took place at Marlins Park in Miami. Cano, who went 1-for-2 with a pair of intentional walks in the semifinal and drew another intentional pass in the first inning on Tuesday, finished with a Classic-leading 25 total bases.

Cano's contributions went beyond what he did at the plate, as he made several slick fielding plays throughout the tournament, teaming up in a double-play combination with Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes.

"I have to feel blessed to get to play in a combination with Robinson Cano," Reyes said when the club arrived in San Francisco. "He's a superstar, a great player. He makes me better."

Participating in his second Classic, Cano is coming off a 2012 season in which he earned his fourth Silver Slugger Award and his second Gold Glove Award while making his fourth All-Star appearance for the Yankees. Although he struggled in the playoffs, he bounced back to his normal form in the World Baseball Classic.

In fact, Cano might have taken his overall team presence to another level, for Dominican manager Tony Pena said Cano became more of a vocal leader on the club, helping captain Miguel Tejada keep the team in the balanced state of being loose and focused at the same time.

"Now, Robinson Cano is starting to see himself like a leader," Pena said. "He's starting to see himself like giving direction to all the players and talking to the young players."

How much that leadership role translates over to his position with the Yankees remains to be seen, and Cano points out that there are established veterans like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera to fill that role for the Yanks. Also, Cano is heading into his final year before free agency, but his contract situation was far from his mind during this thrilling run to an international title and MVP honors.

"I don't pay attention to the contract," Cano said. "I'm just trying to enjoy this to the maximum extent. We have people like Jose Reyes, [Hanley] Ramirez, [Edwin] Encarnacion, [Octavio] Dotel, [Fernando] Rodney, [Santiago] Casilla -- all of those players. How can I put this? We're just trying to enjoy to the greatest extent possible our time here."

Oh, the D.R. players enjoyed themselves in a big way, to be sure. And while Cano takes home the MVP trophy, what he really takes with him is a part of that larger team trophy and the memories of doing something great for his country with a group of players he admires.

"You come into this wanting to win the big trophy, and that's what happened," Cano aid. "And without my teammates, this [MVP] wouldn't have happened. Every time I went [into the clubhouse], there was music, we had our spirits high. You know what? We were blessed by God, and this has been a privilege. It's a pride to be able to give this back to the D.R. and to my people."

Dominican Republic, Robinson Cano