The Dominican Republic scored a pair of ninth-inning runs off one of Major League Baseball’s most dominant relievers to beat the US 3-1 on Thursday and clinch a semi-finals berth in the World Baseball Classic.
Craig Kimbrel had been nearly untouchable for the Atlanta Braves last year, but with the game on the line, the hard-throwing closer yielded a pinch-hit, run-scoring single by Erick Aybar and another RBI-single to Jose Reyes.
The victory sent the undefeated Dominicans into delirium and the US team into an elimination game yesterday against Puerto Rico. The winner of that game would advance to the semi-finals in San Francisco, while the loser will head home.
Japan, winners of the first two WBC titles, and the Netherlands have already qualified for the semi-finals, which will start tomorrow, with the title game on Tuesday.
The US and the Dominican Republic boasted 21 major league All-Stars between them with and a slew of slugging hitters, but it was pitching that ruled the game, until the ninth.
With the game tied 1-1, Cruz opened the final frame with a line drive into the right-center gap that right-fielder Giancarlo Stanton dove to stop from getting through to the wall, while Cruz raced into second with a double.
The Texas Rangers outfielder advanced to third on a ground out and then scored on the single by Aybar, who stole second base to put himself in position to score on the hit by Reyes.
“The whole team did a great job. At the end we came up with the clutch hit. We showed a lot of heart,” Cruz said. “I know they going crazy right now in the Dominican. Everybody believe in us and hopefully we’ll be able to take it all the way.”