It’s March. While most of the sports world is focused on college basketball, there’s another big tournament going on that has not disappointed. After two rounds of pool play, the semi-finals for the World Baseball Classic are set. The United States punched their ticket to Los Angeles for the second time in tournament history with a dramatic 6-3 win over the mighty Dominican Republic. The Americans will join Puerto Rico, Japan, and the Netherlands in Los Angeles for the semi-finals, starting Monday night.
The Americans have had their ups and downs in the tournament to this point, but found themselves with a chance to control their own destiny, and put themselves in the semi-finals with a win. However they would have to take on the reigning champs, the Dominican Republic, a juggernaut that has had the USA’s number in the past. With both teams sitting at 1-1, Saturday night’s game would decide who gets the final spot in the final four.
Since the very first pitch, the sellout Petco Park crowd were on their feet, hanging on every pitch as if it were a playoff game. With what’s at stake, the two teams treated every pitch as if it were Game 7 of the World Series, and it made for one of the best atmospheres this incredible tournament has seen. Two star-studded lineups, fighting for a chance to play on the game’s biggest stage. It really doesn’t get much better.
The Dominican Republic got to USA’s starting pitcher, Danny Duffy, early with a pair of run scoring hits by Robinson Cano and Carlos Santana in the bottom of the first. The Americans would strike back in the top of the third, with a big game tying double by Christian Yelich. Duffy kept the game knotted at two, and set the stage for the biggest hit of the night for the Americans.
With a runner on in the top of the fourth, Miami Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton stepped to the plate. He had just one hit in the tournament up to that point, but it didn’t matter. Stanton connected with a pitch from Ervin Santana, sending the ball deep into the San Diego sky, and giving the Americans a 4-2 lead. You’d think a moment like this would be the highlight of the game, but that was not the case.
The Dominicans never quit. They continued to get runners on, but couldn’t bring them home. Then came the bottom of the seventh inning, which gave us one of the greatest moments in USA baseball history. Adam Jones, who has been a hero on multiple occasions in this tournament, came up huge once again. This time, it wasn’t at the plate.
With the score still 4-2, Jones’ teammate on the Baltimore Orioles, Manny Machado, stepped up to the plate. The Dominican star sent one deep to right-center field. Jones tracked it down, timed his jump perfectly, and reached over the outfield wall to make the catch and rob Machado of a homer. The emotions after the catch were something out of a movie, including an, “Oh my god!” from a relieved Tyler Clippard. Even Machado had to tip his cap to his teammate.
The USA would take that momentum and never look back. They would tack on two more runs in the eighth with a double by Andrew McCutchen, bringing the score to 6-3. Sam Dyson and Luke Gregerson would combine for 2 ⅔ perfect innings to close out, and send the Americans to the semi-finals. The powerhouse that is the Dominican Republic had fallen, and USA are ready to stake their claim as World Baseball Classic champions.
How can a tournament that has had everything up to this point get any better? We’ll have to find out when the semi-finals begin on Monday night. The teams will head to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and will see its first action when Puerto Rico takes on the Netherlands at 9 p.m.ET on Monday. The second semi-final will follow with USA taking on Japan at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday night. The two winners will meet Wednesday night to decide who is the champion of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.