As the World Baseball Classic expanded to North America, the Dominican Republic showed why it's among this year's favorites with a 9-2 victory over Canada in the Pool C opener Thursday night at Marlins Park.The reigning Classic champions improved to 15-4 all time in the tournament behind a stellar outing
As the World Baseball Classic expanded to North America, the Dominican Republic showed why it's among this year's favorites with a 9-2 victory over Canada in the Pool C opener Thursday night at Marlins Park.
The reigning Classic champions improved to 15-4 all time in the tournament behind a stellar outing from Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez and a steady dose of offense, including home runs from Welington Castillo and Jose Bautista.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
"Our mindset is to be focused and to come here and do what we know how to do, to play baseball," Dominican manager Tony Pena said. "All the guys know all eyes are upon us, and we all have to be focused and be able to face anything."
Martinez, playing in his first Classic, limited Canada to just three hits and one run -- which was scored on a balk call in the third -- over four innings, striking out three batters without a walk. The 25-year-old eclipsed 50 pitches, totaling 53, meaning he won't be eligible to pitch again for the Dominican Republic until Tuesday, should the country advance to the second round.
"I'm grateful to the managers that allowed me to have this first game," Martinez said. "I had good focus, and I said, 'This is my game.' I wasn't nervous or anything. I simply worked as I always do."
Former All-Star Ryan Dempster took the loss for Canada in his first competitive outing since Game 1 of the 2013 World Series. Dempster, who turns 40 in May, thwarted an early threat, stranding a pair of runners in the first, but the potent Dominican lineup got to him for four runs in the second.
• Rogers: Dempster seeks chance to redeem himself
Dempster exited after two innings and 49 pitches, just below the 50-pitch limit that would have required four days' rest before he returned to pitch for Canada. He's eligible to return to the mound as early as Saturday against Colombia.
Canada falls to 3-6 all time in the Classic. The team is trying to advance beyond pool play to the second round for the first time.
Both teams resume play at Marlins Park on Saturday, when Canada takes on Colombia and the Dominican Republic faces Team USA. World Baseball Classic games air live on MLB Network and on MLB.TV in the U.S.
• Rogers: National pride resonates for Dominican squad
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Castillo sparks second-inning fireworks: The Orioles' Castillo ignited a Dominican-leaning crowd in the second inning with a two-run blast to right field. Castillo's second career homer at Marlins Park rocketed off his bat with a 100.5-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™. The Dominican Republic totaled six hits against Dempster throughout the rally, which began with a double by right fielder Nelson Cruz. Gregory Polanco and Bautista each contributed RBI singles around Castillo's long ball. More >
Machado flashes leather: It didn't take long for O's star Manny Machado to get himself into the highlight reel for the Dominican Republic. The two-time Gold Glove Award winner robbed Canada's Freddie Freeman of a likely leadoff hit in the second, plucking the line drive from the air with an impressive leaping grab.
Bautista blast: The Dominican Republic ran away with it in the sixth inning, when Bautista punctuated the win with a three-run home run, extending his team's lead to six runs. The homer traveled an estimated 415 feet at 107.7 mph, per Statcast™. Shortstop Jose Reyes, a catalyst for the Dominicans throughout the night, got the inning started with a leadoff single. Machado added a base hit before Bautista brought them all home. Both Bautista and Reyes finished with three hits, while Bautista drove in four of the Dominican Republic's nine runs. More >
All-Star 'pen: The Dominican bullpen backed up Martinez's performance by limiting Canada to one run over five innings, shutting the door by deploying a quartet of All-Star relievers. Alex Colome, Dellin Betances, Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia held the Canadians hitless for three innings to end the game. Rodney and Familia combined to strike out all three of the batters they faced in the ninth.
"When this team has the lead, everyone knows the type of bullpen that we have," Pena said. "We can close out the game."
CANADA SHOWCASES STRONG DEFENSE
Team Canada delivered several defensive highlights throughout the night. In the fifth inning, with the game still within two runs, Carlos Santana lined a ball over Dalton Pompey's head in center field for what appeared to be an RBI double. Instead, Pompey, shortstop Jonathan Malo and catcher George Kottaras completed a near-perfect relay to throw out Bautista as he slid home, holding the score at 4-2.
That wasn't the only strong play made by Pompey, however. One inning later, the Blue Jays' outfielder robbed Santana of a hit with a diving catch in center. More >
"I can't say that I can think of a team that was better than what the [Dominican Republic] team puts out there," Canadian manager Ernie Whitt said. "There's no soft spot in the lineup. You make one mistake and they're going to hurt you."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
A fired-up Martinez lit up the radar gun in the first inning, reaching 100.6 mph on a fastball to Justin Morneau. That's faster than all but four of the pitches he threw for the Cardinals in 2016. Martinez's 100.4-mph pitch to Tyler O'Neill on Thursday also would have landed in his top 10 last season.
Canada: Team Canada has a day off Friday before it takes on Colombia at noon ET on Saturday. A matchup with the United States looms Sunday at 7 p.m..
Dominican Republic: The Dominican Republic resumes play Saturday with a highly anticipated contest against the United States at 6:30 p.m.. The Dominicans conclude Pool C play against Colombia on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com.