Marlins All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton has enjoyed his time playing for the United States in the World Baseball Classic. He's been soaking up the atmosphere of playing in front of big noisy crowds and meaningful pressure-packed games.
"I've liked the international stuff ... with the noisemakers and what not," Stanton said not long after the United States' impressive 7-1 win over Puerto Rico on Tuesday in front of the seventh-largest crowd in Marlins Park history.
"To bring that atmosphere in here with a dome -- everything is much louder in a dome -- it was fun."
More fun -- maybe the most Marlins Park could see all year -- is likely in store Thursday night when the United States meets the Dominican Republic in a mega-matchup WBC organizers have longed for.
The Dominicans and Americans, two teams with 21 combined All-Stars on their rosters, never met in the two previous World Baseball Classics. And both are hungry for their first title.
Thursday's winner will clinch a trip to the semifinals in San Francisco where two-time defending Classic champion Japan and the Netherlands are waiting. The loser will play either Italy or Puerto Rico in an elimination game Friday to determine the second semifinalist.
"We expect it to be a good game," USA manager Joe Torre said Wednesday morning. "You've got two teams that are talented. I was here for most of the game [Tuesday], and obviously you could just see the passion on that bench over there, especially when they'd fallen behind [4-0] and they started climbing back in their win over Italy. They don't lack confidence. And our ballclub maybe is not as animated, but every bit as confident and determined as they are.''
Next to Cuba, which was eliminated by the Dutch in Round 2, nobody has hit the ball better than the Dominicans in the WBC. They have hit .319 as a team, led by red-hot Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who is hitting .632 (12 for 19) with two homers and six RBI. Former Marlins Hanley Ramirez (.412, 1 HR) and Jose Reyes (.350, 1 HR) and Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz (.444, 6 RBI) haven't been too shabby.
"Robby is very special, and there's no weakness in this kid, not to say obviously you can get him out, but he scares you," said Torre, who managed Cano for three seasons with the Yankees . "I know a lot of people when they see him smile they don't think he cares, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
"But he's not the only one in that lineup. They're pretty impressive. You knew they would be when you figure out the number of Dominican players we have at the major-league level, and they're all pretty much all elite players."
Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, whose knuckleball got slapped around in a loss to Mexico, will start for the Americans. But if he struggles again, Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler, who tossed four shutout innings of one-hit ball in relief in a 6-2 win over Italy, is available.
Twins right-hander Samuel Deduno (6-5, 4.44 ERA in 15 starts in 2012) will pitch for the Dominicans and try to slow down a U.S. offense that ranks third in the tournament with a .306 average. and is just starting to get comfortable at the plate.
"I think it takes a little bit of time to build that chemistry and camaraderie that's indicative of a true team, and I feel like we're at that point now,'' said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, one of six USA hitters batting better than .353 in the tournament. "We're really having a lot of fun, guys are picking each other up.''
Mets third baseman David Wright, whose earned the nickname Captain America from fans for his red-hot bat, is hitting .438 with a tournament-leading 10 RBI. He's been the hero multiple times.
"Obviously it's nice to get hits, it's nice to drive runs in, but the important thing is obviously hearing those USA chants and getting a chance to win games and high-five afterwards,'' Wright said.
""Obviously the adrenaline gets pumping for this tournament. You wear that uniform, and as I mentioned before, you want to go out there and represent your country. And I'm not lying when I say that hitting in this lineup is ridiculous.''
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