Cano earns MVP honors as squad is first to finish undefeated in Classic
Barry M. Bloom
SAN FRANCISCO -- The air horns, whistles and congas that were the background noise to all eight consecutive Dominican Republic victories in the third World Baseball Classic could be heard from one end of the continent to the other on Tuesday night.
At AT&T Park, where the Dominicans received their gold medals after defeating neighboring Puerto Rico, 3-0, in the championship game, orange, white and blue confetti was sent streaming into the damp air. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in the Caribbean, a country reveled as the Dominican Republic defeated Puerto Rico for the third time in the tournament.
The undefeated Dominican Republic is unquestionably the king of the Caribbean and the wider baseball world, unseating the two-time defending Classic champion Japanese in the only international baseball tournament that includes Major League players.
"This means a lot to us," said Robinson Cano, the Yankees second baseman who now can add the Classic gold to his 2009 World Series ring. "I'm excited right now. This is for your country and comes from the bottom of your heart. We know how much our fans wanted it. This means the world to us. You know how it is back home."
Cano was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament after winning the honor for each of the first two rounds. No team has ever won out through the tournament and as the Dominican Republic did it for the first time, Cano hit .469 (15-for-32) with four doubles, two homers, six RBIs and 25 total bases.
His 15 hits set the record for most hits by anyone in a single Classic, surpassing the 13 knocked out by Japan's Nobuhiko Matsunaka in 2006.
But in no way was Cano the only star in this tournament from his star-studded team. Rays closer Fernando Rodney recorded a Classic-record seventh save by pitching the ninth inning on Tuesday. Previously unheralded starter Samuel Deduno of the Twins finished 2-0 with 17 strikeouts and a 0.69 ERA after firing five innings of scoreless, two-hit ball and whiffing five against the Puerto Ricans.
The Dominican Republic's bullpen was lights-out for the tournament, which can be illustrated by the fact that the Dominicans won their last five games by a total of 10 runs, including a 4-1 victory over the feisty Kingdom of the Netherlands in a semifinal game here on Monday.
"I wish I could be in the Dominican right now because our country is rocking," said Moises Alou, the former Major Leaguer who put together this team as general manager and is part of a proud baseball-playing Dominican Republic family. "This is baseball. In the Dominican everybody eats and breathes baseball. This has to be right there on top of everything, even winning a gold medal in the Olympics."
On a rainy night in the City by the Bay, Deduno took his club on the path to victory and Jose Reyes led the offensive attack with a double and a triple. The bullpen then came into play. Pedro Strop shut down a late rally, Santiago Casilla pitched a scoreless eighth in front of his home Giants fans and Rodney finished off the Puerto Ricans, starting a wild celebration on the infield.
Like Cano, Casilla can now add the Classic gold to the two World Series titles his Giants have won in the past three years.
"I mean, this win is going to go to the whole country of the Dominican Republic because it was hungry waiting for this moment," said Reyes, the former Mets and Marlins shortstop who is now with the Blue Jays. "We stayed together as a team. We had good communication, good chemistry -- that's why we won everything. Like I said before, this win is going to go to the whole Dominican Republic."
Reyes led off the bottom of the first with a double to right field and scored along with Cano on a double to right-center by Edwin Encarnacion as the Dominicans took the first lead of the much-anticipated championship game. They upped their lead to an insurmountable 3-0 on an RBI double in the fifth by Erick Aybar, who had a pair of hits on the night.
Puerto Rico tried to stage a rally with light rain falling in the seventh. Mike Aviles led off with a single and Alex Rios walked. But Strop came in and stopped the rally. He whiffed two and then Jesus Feliciano hit a foul pop that veteran Miguel Tejada caught crashing to the ground as he reached the bullpen.
But in the end it was just too much Dominican Republic. The Puerto Ricans evidently recognized that.
As the Dominican players celebrated and were presented with the World Baseball Classic trophy, plus had the medals placed around their collective necks, Team Puerto Rico stood on the field in unison and watched the ceremony.
After all, the Dominicans were the prohibitive favorites once again when the tourney began. The Puerto Ricans, who won five of their nine games at the right time to advance, went farther than anyone could have anticipated. In that they joined Brazil and Spain, who qualified for the group of 16 for the first time, Chinese Taipei and Italy, which moved on to the second round, and the Dutch, who were treated to a spot in the semis.
"I played in it in 2009 and it was fun then, but 2013 was something different," Aviles said. "We were able to put together a team that was more a team than anything, and I think that's the reason we were able to get to the final. We had an actual team atmosphere, a good mix of young guys and old guys, and the fact that everyone was proud to put this uniform on and we continued to play with pride. I think that was the biggest thing, to play with pride and make everybody proud."