A pitching duel was broken open in the top of the ninth on an Erick Aybar pinch-hit single as the Dominican Republic beat the United States, 3-1. The win clinches a spot in the final four for the Dominicans. The United States must win tonight to stay alive in the tournament.
While the starting lineups of the two teams were fairly evenly-matched (even more so after David Wright was benched with a sore back), Team USA seemed to be a heavy favorite because of the pitching match-up. US manager sent defending NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to the mound, while Dominican manager Tony Pena countered with Samuel Deduno, who was 6-5 with a 4.44 ERA in fifteen starts as a 28 year-old rookie with the Twins last year. The Dominican bullpen was solid, but Team USA was expected to jump all over Deduno.
It looked like the predictions were going to come true when the US loaded the bases with two out in the first inning on singles by Brandon Phillips, Joe Mauer and Giancarlo Stanton. When Deduno walked Eric Hosmer, Team USA took a 1-0 lead. But Deduno struck out Adam Jones to end the first with the Dominican Republic only down a run.
Dickey looked much, much better than he did in his first game in the WBC when Mexico jumped all over him in the first two innings. His knuckleball was dancing for most of his five innings, but in the second inning he grooved one with flat feet to Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez hit the ball so hard that it was still flying when hit above the 427 foot sign in left-center field. The game was tied at one after two innings.
After the first inning, Deduno settled into a groove and kept the United States off-balance for four innings. He exited after four, allowing one run on five hits. He walked two and struck out seven. Dickey matched him, going five innings, giving up a run on five hits. Dickey walked one and struck out four.
After that, the United States offense was completely silenced. Four Dominican relievers, Kelvin Herrera, Octavio Dotel, Pedro Strop and Fernando Rodney allowed only two base runners the rest of the way and one of them was on a Jose Reyes error.
But the Dominicans didn't have much luck off of the American bullpen, either. Luke Gregerson, Tim Collins and Steve Cishek held the Dominican Republic scoreless for three innings. They allowed three base runners, but one was on a Willie Bloomquist error and another was an intentional walk.
(Some credit for the pitching performances should go to home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. If Eric Gregg were alive today, he'd be watching the game at home and saying "Man, Hernandez has a big strike zone." At times, it was embarrassing the pitches that were called for strikes against both teams.)
With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the ninth and the possibility of a save for Team USA out the window, Torre went to his closer, Craig Kimbrel, to keep the score even. It was a good decision that backfired anyway. Nelson Cruz was sitting on a first-pitch, 97 mph fastball and he lined it into right field for a double. Stanton made a beautiful play to keep the ball from going to the wall and almost threw Cruz out at second base, but he made it in safely. After Cruz got to third on a Carlos Santana ground out, Pena sent Erick Aybar into the game as a pinch-hitter.
Aybar got behind 1-2 on Kimbrel after Angel Hernandez called a strike on a slider that was at least a foot outside. But then Aybar lined the next pitch to right field to give the Dominican Republic a 2-1 lead. After he stole second base, Aybar scored an insurance run on a Jose Reyes single.
Fernando Rodney retired the United States in order for the save.
With the win, the Dominican Republic has clinched a trip to San Francisco for the final four. The United States now must play a win-or-go-home game against Puerto Rico tonight at 6 pm CT. Nelson Figueroa will start for Puerto Rico and Ryan Vogelsong goes for the US.
I'll have a game thread up an hour before the opening pitch.