Molina spurs PR past DR to remain unbeaten

March 15th, 2017

For the first time since 2009, the Dominican Republic suffered a loss in the World Baseball Classic. In a rematch of the last Classic's title game, Puerto Rico defeated the reigning champions, 3-1, on Tuesday night in the Pool F opener at Petco Park.

Puerto Rico (4-0) was led by a stellar performance by its bullpen and a strong showing from veteran catcher . In the first, he secured a throw from right fielder to nail attempting to score at home for the third out, escaping what had been a no-out, bases-loaded jam.

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"The motivation was there," Puerto Rican manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "We were waiting for this for four years."

Molina also homered, drove in two runs, threw out a baserunner for a pivotal out late in the game and helped guide the pitching staff through nine innings of one-run ball.

"As Yadier Molina goes, the team goes," Rodriguez said. "He's the heart of the team."

The Dominican Republic's lone run, a solo shot by , came against Puerto Rican starter Orlando Roman in the second inning.

Puerto Rico's relief unit -- , , and -- combined to hold a dangerous Dominican lineup to just three hits and four walks and struck out seven batters over 6 2/3 scoreless frames.

For the Dominican Republic (3-1), Tuesday's defeat was a rare occurrence. The Caribbean nation -- which went unbeaten en route to the 2013 Classic title and swept the United States, Canada and Colombia last week in Miami -- is 17-5 all-time in the global tournament.

"One of these days it was bound to happen," Dominican manager Tony Pena said of his team's winning streak ending. "We did lose this battle, but not the war."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Rosario bails out Roman: Roman pitched himself into a major jam in the first inning, but with some help from right fielder Rosario, he escaped the frame unscathed. Rosario threw out Segura at home as the Dominican designated hitter attempted to score on a fly ball by .

"I thew with everything in my arm," Rosario said. "I concentrated to take this guy at home plate. It's for my patria [country]. I do everything for my patria."

Roman began the evening by allowing the first three batters to reach on a single by Segura, a double by Manny Machado and a walk by . The right-hander settled in for a big strikeout of before Rosario bailed him out with his outfield assist and inning-ending double play. More >

Yadi lifts Puerto Rico: Molina gave his team some breathing room in the sixth inning with a solo homer, his second long ball of the tournament. The Cardinals star plated two of Puerto Rico's three runs, also contributing the game's first run with an RBI single against his St. Louis teammate in the first.

Molina also made his presence known as one of baseball's premier defensive backstops, throwing out Cruz with a near-perfect throw to second as Cruz attempted to steal.

"I was surprised that he took off," Rodriguez said. "He took off at first when you have Yadier Molina behind the plate."

Molina, who has played for Puerto Rico in all four Classics, is now batting .417 (5-for-12) with five RBIs and four runs scored through three starts in the tournament. More >

Cruz goes yard: Cruz took the third pitch of the second inning and went deep for a projected 404-foot leadoff homer to put the Dominican Republic on the board. Cruz's home run immediately erased Puerto Rico's first-inning lead and assured the Dominican team would avoid its first-ever shutout in the World Baseball Classic.

Cruz's second home run of the tournament endured a replay review. The officiating crew went to the tape to see if a fan interfered with the ball as he reached over the top of the fence to catch it, but the ruling stood. More >

QUOTABLE

"They know better. I would play for my country every time, every year, and they know. I love to play. I love to be in this situation. I would do it every time." -- Molina, when asked whether the Cardinals have ever suggested he skip the tournament

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS

Molina reacted fast to throw out Cruz in the eighth. According to Statcast™, he registered a 1.8-second pop time, which would rate as the 18th fastest on a caught-stealing of second last season. The Major League average for pop time to second on steal attempts was 2.01 seconds in 2016.

PENA TOSSED

Emotions boiled over for Pena in the eighth inning. The former All-Star and Gold Glove Award-winning catcher was ejected from the game for arguing a strike call with home-plate umpire Will Little. Pena took issue with a pitch by Puerto Rico reliever that Molina appeared to pluck from below the strike zone.

Pena declined to comment on the umpiring when asked in his postgame press conference.

"I'm not going to make a comment on this regard," he said. "But you saw the game. So you can decide."

WHAT'S NEXT

Dominican Republic: After a day of rest, the Dominican Republic resumes play Thursday against Venezuela at 10 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV. It's a must win for the Dominican team, which could fall out of contention with a second loss in Pool F.

Puerto Rico: A Friday evening matchup with Team USA looms for Puerto Rico after two days off. The game is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV.

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 Tokyo Dome and 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.