Pagan: 'We gave it our best; we lost against the best team'
After Japan won the first two WBCs, the Dominican Republic emerged from the field in 2013 to win the title without suffering a single loss. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SAN FRANCISCO -- "Whoever wins the Baseball Classic, it's really going to belong to the Caribbean."
The two Caribbean islands separated geographically by less than 100 miles are core to the Latin American countries that made up 42 percent of minor leaguers and 24 percent of major leaguers last season.
With a daunting lineup that boasts MLB All-Stars Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Nelson Cruz, the D.R. is known for its prowess at the plate, but they did it with pitching Tuesday. Pena's bullpen, which entered the game riding a streak of 21.2 consecutive scoreless innings, completed the five-inning gem authored by starting pitcher Samuel Deduno with another four blank frames to preserve the shutout.
"You have to tip your hat to the Dominican pitching," said Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez after five of his eight runners left on base were stranded in scoring position.
Giants center fielder Angel Pagan did his part by leading off the game with his 12th hit of the tournament -- the most ever by a Puerto Rican in a single WBC. But Deduno set the tone by striking out Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina in succession to strand Pagan at second.
It shifted momentum west to the D.R., and Jose Reyes capitalized immediately, roping a double off the right-field facade that was only feet away from clearing Levi's Landing. Following a sacrifice bunt from Erick Aybar and an intentional walk to Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion put the D.R. on top with a two-run double that Pagan had zero chance of running down toward Triple's Alley.
Reyes added a triple in the seventh and finished 2-for-4 with the game-winning run.
"This is the greatest moment of my career," the Blue Jays shortstop said through translation shortly after fielding a congratulatory phone call from Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina.
While Puerto Rico starter Giancarlo Alvarado departed with an ERA of 18.00 after a 22-pitch first inning, Deduno was stingy until he closed out the fifth with a strikeout, finishing with just two hits against, including Pagan's leadoff knock.
That fifth inning belonged to the D.R.'s Alejandro De Aza, who, following a brief timeout to tend to the wet dirt around the pitcher's mound, made a high-degree-of-difficulty catch in the left-center gap. It kept Alex Rios rooted at second base, where he was stranded when Deduno ended his outing by getting Pagan to swing and miss at a breaking ball in the dirt.
Pagan's strikeout ended Puerto Rico's best scoring chance, and he didn't like it when a demonstrative Deduno postured before leaving the mound toward his dugout already erupting in celebration. Pagan took his time staring down the celebration that took place in what is the Giants dugout during the MLB season.
"We gave our best," Pagan said. "We lost against the best team. I think we're satisfied with our job -- getting to the finals. It's something that nobody expected.
"I think this will push us to try to win next time."
In the bottom of the frame, the Domincans added an insurance run when De Aza reached base on a bunt single and scored on Aybar's double.
Having won elimination games over Italy, the U.S. and two-time defending Classic champion Japan, Puerto Rico wasn't backing down. It was Puerto Rico that last forced an ERA on the D.R.'s bullpen nine days earlier in San Juan, but the combination of Octavio Dotel, Pedro Strop, Giants reliever Santiago Casilla and Fernando Rodney was too much.
If the Latin American fan bases present Tuesday night are any indicator, the World Baseball Classic is here to stay.
NOTES: The Dominican Republic became the only nation other than Japan to win the World Baseball Classic, and the first nation to do so by sweeping the tournament. ... Tournament MVP Robinson Cano went 0-for-3, failing to record a hit in a game for the first time this tournament. ... Giants Santiago Casilla and Angel Pagan faced each other in the eighth inning, with Pagan keeping the bat on his shoulder and drawing a five-pitch walk. ... Angel Pagan's 12 WBC hits are second only to Robinson Cano's 15.