He looked like a shortstop in right field.
Giancarlo Stanton dove to his backhand and stopped Nelson Cruz's liner from rolling to the wall in the ninth inning Thursday. Cruz in spite of Stanton popping up and making a strong throw cruised into second.
He wouldn't stay there long.
Two batters later, Erick Aybar ripped an RBI-single to right that sent the Dominican Republic to a 3-1 win over Team USA in the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park. Cruz floated home from third, buoyed by cheers and screams and horns and waving Dominican flags.
That same patriotic tempo reverberated through the domed venue when the Dominican team spilled out of its dugout a second time in the inning. Jose Reyes delivered a run-scoring single off Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, sending another euphoric tremor through the pro-Dominican crowd of 34,366. The last one hit seismic levels when Fernando Rodney recorded the final out in the ninth.
"It's no doubt the best atmosphere that I've ever played because of the way the fans respond," said Cruz, a veteran of two World Series with the Texas Rangers. "As a player, I can't ask for anything else from my fans. They gave it everything they had, every inning, every play."
Kimbrel took the loss in the first ever WBC meeting between Team USA and the Dominican Republic, the world's two strongest pipelines of major league players. Three of the five batters Kimbrel faced reached on hits before manager Joe Torre yanked him.
"They earned it," Torre said. "They beat a great one. He is something special now. He's only going to get better."
The outcome of Thursday's game means Team USA will face Puerto Rico in an elimination game Friday night. The winner advances to the championship round starting Sunday in San Francisco, where the Dominican, Japan and the Kingdom of the Netherlands already have secured spots. A Team USA win would set up one more meeting with the Dominicans Saturday afternoon in the second-round finale for seeding purposes.
"We've done this before, and I really don't have to tell them anything," said Torre, whose squad had to beat Canada in an elimination game in Phoenix last week to advance to Miami. "It was a tough game tonight and they beat our closer. There's not much you can say."
Team USA scored a run on three hits in the first, but that noise burst was short-lived amid the unceasing scraping of güiros, blowing of vuvuzelas and playing of other Latin American percussion instruments. Over the final eight innings, the offense totaled three singles and a walk. Relievers Kelvin Herrera, Octavio Dotel, Pedro Strop and Rodney combined on the final five scoreless innings.
"I told the boys how proud I was of them," Dominican manager Tony Pena said. "We knew that it was going to be a difficult day, but thank God every one of the boys maintained his form and stayed focused. The pitching did extraordinary work."
Team USA received exceptional relief work as well, including 1 1/3 scoreless innings from Marlins closer Steve Cishek. Torre intentionally walked Reyes to put runners on first and second with two out in the seventh to set up a Cishek-Miguel Tejada match-up.
Tejada took a strike before bouncing one back to the mound. Cishek followed that up with a perfect eighth during which he struck out Robinson Cano and Hanley Ramirez. The inning-ending strikeout of his former teammate prompted an emphatic fist pump.
In four WBC appearances, Cishek has allowed a run on no hits with two strikeouts.
His performance Thursday produced several tweets from Marlins teammates. Logan Morrison: "My boy @srSHREK31 was filthy tonight! DID YOU SEE THAT FIST PUMP!" Ryan Webb: "Where did you learn that fist pump @srSHREK31! That was awesome." And Tom Koehler: "@srSHREK31 that was straight filth. 2ks and a superb fist pump."
The lone run Team USA knuckleballer R.A. Dickey allowed was a tattooed Ramirez home run. With one out in the second, Ramirez tied it when he deposited the 2-1 offering into the Budweiser Bar high above left-center beyond the 427-foot marker.
According the @ESPNStatsInfo Twitter feed, Ramirez's blast had a true distance of 451 feet, making it the fourth-longest hit at Marlins Park since it opened last season. Stanton has accounted for the three longest shots hit here with true distances of 462, 458 and 456.
Ramirez can now boast two of the six farthest Marlins Park homers. Last April 15 he tagged a Wilton Lopez pitch 447 feet to straightaway center.
Dickey allowed just four other hits during his five-inning, four-strikeout, 82-pitch outing. He held the Dominicans hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Dominican counterpart Samuel Deduno reached his pitch allotment after four innings. Of his 80 deliveries, 30 came during the first inning. He gave up three singles and walked Eric Hosmer with the bases loaded.
Deduno settled over his final three, allowing two singles, walking one and striking out five, including four of the last five batters he faced. Seven of the 12 outs Deduno recorded came via strikeout.
Said Pena: "Today was a battle of two titans."
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