The two top seeds faced off to begin the second round of the American side of the 2017 World Baseball Classic in the 3-0 Puerto Rico and 3-0 Dominican Republic while the United States and Venezuela would begin in game two. The super star laden DR line-up and the youthful Puerto Ricans played one of the more entertaining games of the WBC so far, ultimately leading to the ejection of Dominican manager Tony Pena.
Veteran catcher, Yadier Molina started the action with an RBI single in the first, scoring Francisco Lindor who had walked. Nelson Cruz would tie the game in the second with a contested solo home run, but Hector Santiago would come in to pitch 2.2 scoreless innings for Puerto Rico after while Carlos Martinez would keep things even until an Adrian Beltre error allowed Javier Baez to reach, then score on an Eddie Rosario double. Team Puerto Rico would add another in the sixth on a Molina solo home run and the catcher would help on defense as well, catching Cruz trying to steal to end the 8th. Thanks to some brilliant appearances out of the bullpen for both teams and an extra large strike zone (leading to the aforementioned ejection), the 3-1 lead would stand up and Edwin Diaz would close out a game one victory for Puerto Rico. This loss was the first for the Dominican Republic since losing to the Netherlands in 2009, breaking a mark of 11 straight.
Team USA and Venezuela would continue the second round and, for the first time Venezuela didn’t play in a mash fest. After allowing 36 runs in their first four games, the lone South American WBC team went with Felix Hernandez and he pitched five shut out innings, striking out five and allowing just three hits. At the same time, Drew Smyly nearly matched him, going 4.2 and striking out eight while allowing three hits. While Smyly didn’t allow an earned run, he did give up the lead in the third as Carlos Gonzalez singled to start the inning, then moved to third on an error when Smyly threw past Eric Hosmer at first. Ender Incierte knocked him in with a sacrifice fly for the games first run before Smyly finished the inning without further damage.
While the US would threaten with two on during the bottom of the sixth, they wouldn’t score and Venezuela would increase their lead with a solo home run by Rougned Odor off David Robertson in the top of the seventh. USA would get their first run in the bottom half after a pair of hitters reached with infield ground balls and Jonathan Lucroy knocked in Eric Hosmer with a sac fly.
The biggest hero for US in the first round would come through in the second as well, hitting a solo home run off Hector Rondon in the 8th to tie the game at two. After a Christian Yelich single, Hosmer would hit one out to right to give the US their first lead of the second round. Luke Gregerson would come in for the two run save and finish things off with a double play off the bat of Victor Martinez.
This put Venezuela in the position of playing in a near must win game against the Dominican Republic, who also came into Thursday with a loss. After seeing so many high scoring games in the first rounds, this was another surprisingly low scoring affair as Edinson Volquez and Jhoulys Chacin both pitched the first four innings without score. It wasn’t until the bottom of the fifth that the first run came across, when Gregory Polanco went deep off Chacin that the 0-0 tie was broken. Robinson Cano would add another in the 7th on an RBI single and Nelson Cruz knocked in one more with his second home run of the round in the 8th as five DR relievers combined for 4.2 scoreless innings, striking out 8 while allowing just three hits and now walks.
Continuing in the trend of exciting World Baseball Classic games, team USA looked to beat the undefeated team Puerto Rico for a guarantee of at least a tiebreaker game. For team Puerto Rico, however, a chance at continued perfection and a spot in the finals were on the line. Puerto Rico started hot with the first six batters in the game all hitting singles and Angel Pagan, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran all scoring. Starting pitcher, Marcus Stroman, quickly recovered however, getting a double play for the first two outs of the game, then keeping PR off the board into the 5th. Two unearned runs would come across in the sixth thanks to a Nolan Arenado error, but otherwise the US bullpen shut down team Puerto Rico for the rest of the game.
The US wouldn’t have a big inning like Puerto Rico, but slowly worked to eliminate the lead all game. Arenado hit a double and scored in the second for the first run, then Buster Posey hit a solo home run in the fifth and Adam Jones the same in the sixth. Against Edwin Diaz in the ninth, down three, Arenado walked and Eric Hosmer moved him to second with a single. After Posey and Paul Goldschmidt struck out, Brandon Crawford hit a controversial triple that scored both runners and brought the game to within one run with one out remaining and a runner on third. Puerto Rico stuck with Diaz, however, and he struck out Josh Harrison to end the game and clinch an appearance in the finals.
This pushed the US to 1-1 and another important match on Saturday night against the Dominican Republic. A true elimination game, the winner would go on to face Japan in the final round while the loser would have to wait another four years for redemption.
The game started sloppily as poor defense by Brandon Crawford allowed the DR to get two in during the first. After a surprising two shut out innings by Ervin Santana (he had just joined the team and only thrown about 30 pitches previously this Spring), team USA had two reach to start the third, then scored twice thanks to a Christian Yelich double. One of the runners who reached earlier in the inning was Giancarlo Stanton, and he would add two more the following inning with a massive home run to left that scored Crawford.
In the 7th, still down two, the MVP of the last WBC, Robinson Cano, tried to do it again with a solo home run. It was his double that knocked in an unearned run in the first as well as he would try to get the Dominican Republic back to the finals even if no one else could. Ultimately, his efforts would be for naught. Andrew McCutchen would double home two in the top of the 8th and neither Sam Dyson or Luke Gregerson would allow a single base runner over the final 2.2 innings. Danny Duffy earned the win for his four innings of work while Santana took the loss for DR.
Puerto Rico had already handled Venezuela in Saturday afternoon’s game to continue on without a loss. Because they had beaten the US the night before, they had already earned the top spot coming out of the American pools and get to face the runner up from the Asian side, the Netherlands in a single game with the winner moving on to the finals. After a day off, this game will occur in Los Angeles on Monday, March 20th at 9 PM Eastern. The US will face the top seed from the Asian bracket, Japan, on Tuesday, March 21st, also at 9:00 PM. The winners of both games will wrap up the WBC in the championship at 9:00 PM on Wednesday.