February of 2009 will undoubtedly be remembered by Dominicans as the biggest embarrassment in the island’s rich baseball history. That was the month when a collection of some of the country’s best baseball talent like Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano, David Ortiz, Jose Bautista, Pedro Martinez, Hanley Ramirez and Nelson Cruz was eliminated in the first round of the World Baseball Classic. The team lost two of it’s three games to the Netherlands, a team comprised of minor league talent and whose best known starting pitcher at the time (Sidney Ponson) was coming off a season with a 5.85 ERA.
Fast forward to this year’s edition of the WBC and once again the Dominican Republic has put together another powerhouse squad. Clearly motivated by their humiliating loss four years ago, the team won both of it’s exhibition games by a combined score of 23-4 over the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees. In Puerto Rico for the first round of the WBC, they swept their match-ups against Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Spain.
Then today, it seemed the ghosts of 2009 had reappeared in the team’s game against Italy in their first second round matchup. Before many of the fans in Miami had taken their seats, Dominican starter Edinson Volquez walked the first three batters of the game before giving up a sacrifice fly RBI and then a three-run homerun to put his team in a 4-0 hole. It was eerily similar to the team’s first game in the 2009 tournament when they were down 3-0 to the Netherlands after the first inning.
Two solo homeruns from Reyes and Cano helped the Dominicans chip away at the lead today but they continually left runners on base. Going into the seventh inning down 4-2 and with leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza popping out for the first out, it was beginning to feel as if the Dominicans were about to suffer yet a whole new embarrassment.
Then, the Dominican bats finally woke up. Three consecutive hits loaded the bases. A walk to Edwin Encarnacion forced in a run to make it 4-3. A Ramirez sac fly RBI tied the game up and finally a Cruz single scored the fifth and eventual winning run for the Dominicans.
Now instead of an embarrassment, the Dominicans get to enjoy a day off tomorrow and get ready for a matchup against the United States or Puerto Rico on Thursday. One more win for them and they will be headed to San Francisco for the semi-finals of the WBC, with a chance to show the world why the Dominican Republic should be noted as the place with the best baseball talent in the world.