SAN FRANCISCO — For exactly half of Monday's game at AT&T Park, it looked like the Curse of the Dutchmen once again had the Dominican Republic in its grip. The Dominicans had been considered a powerhouse in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but had been knocked out of that tournament by an unimposing Netherlands team, losing a pair of one-run decisions.
The Dominicans insisted all week that revenge was far from their minds. But what must their crazed fans have been thinking when the Netherlands took a quick 1-0 lead in this WBC semifinal and carried it into the bottom of the fifth inning?
Could it be happening again? Nope. The power of el platano was too much for the Netherlands, and the Dominican Republic rolled to a 4-1 victory.
Dominican Republic reliever Fernando Rodney took a plantain onto the field for good luck during pregame introductions, kept it in the dugout during the game and brandished it still during postgame interviews. Dominican fans played catch with plantains — a symbol of national culture — and posed for pictures with them in the stands.
Anyway, even if the Dominican Republic didn't have better luck, it had more talent. The DR exploded for four runs in the fifth and continued what looks like a relentless march through the WBC. This team is 7-0 in this tournament, with only Puerto Rico standing between it and the trophy.
They play this evening for the championship.
"For us, it's big," Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena said. "We represent our country — and our country is about baseball. We grew up with a stick in our hands."
The dike finally crumbled upon the Netherlands — it's hard to call this team "Dutch," or refer to the Dominican Republic as "Caribbean," when six players in the Netherlands starting lineup were born on the island of Curacao — and it started with back-to-back doubles down the left-field line by Carlos Santana and Moises Sierra in the bottom of the fifth.
"You gotta tie the game first, before you think about four or five runs," second baseman Robinson Cano said. "That was the run. We tied it and went on from there."
Before the doubles, the DR hadn't even gotten a runner to second base. Jose Reyes then brought Sierra home with a single to center field, giving the favored team its first lead of the game.
And the Dominicans weren't done. Bay Area favorite Miguel Tejada followed with a single to center field, sending Reyes — who was moving on the 1-2 pitch — to third base. That chased Netherlands starter Diegomar Markwell, and reliever Tom Stuifbergen's first pitch sailed under catcher Dashenko Ricardo's glove. It was ruled a wild pitch, and it scored Reyes to make the score 3-1. A base hit by Edwin Encarnacion, another single to center, then scored Tejada to make it 4-1, though center fielder Wladimir Bernadina gunned down Cano at third base on the play to end the inning.
Just like that, the strongmen had put down the revolution.
Until that fifth-inning outburst, Markwell was a match for the Dominican Republic's Edinson Volquez, and they presented a sharp contrast in styles.
Volquez, a well-known righthander, routinely landed at 93 miles per hour on the radar gun, and was very difficult to hit. The only question mark was his location — a recurring theme during his baseball career. Volquez led the National League with 105 walks while pitching for the Padres last year.