As the World Baseball Classic expanded to North America, the Dominican Republic showed why it's among this year's favorites with a 9-2 victory over Canada in the Pool C opener Thursday night at Marlins Park.
The reigning Classic champions improved to 15-4 all time in the tournament behind a stellar outing from Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez and a steady dose of offense, including home runs from Welington Castillo and Jose Bautista.
Martinez, playing in his first Classic, limited Canada to just three hits and one run -- which was scored on a balk call in the third -- over four innings, striking out three batters without a walk. The 25-year-old eclipsed 50 pitches, totaling 53, meaning he won't be eligible to pitch again for the Dominican Republic until Tuesday, should the country advance to the second round.
Former All-Star Ryan Dempster took the loss for Canada in his first competitive outing since Game 1 of the 2013 World Series. Dempster, who turns 40 in May, thwarted an early threat, stranding a pair of runners in the first, but the potent Dominican lineup got to him for four runs in the second.
Dempster exited after two innings and 49 pitches, just below the 50-pitch limit that would have required four days' rest before he returned to pitch for Canada. He's eligible to return to the mound as early as Saturday against Colombia.
Canada falls to 3-6 all time in the Classic. The team is trying to advance beyond pool play to the second round for the first time.
Both teams resume play at Marlins Park on Saturday, when Canada takes on Colombia and the Dominican Republic faces Team USA. World Baseball Classic games air live on MLB Network and on MLB.TV in the U.S.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Castillo sparks second-inning fireworks: The Orioles' Castillo ignited a Dominican-leaning crowd in the second inning with a two-run blast to right field. Castillo's second career homer at Marlins Park rocketed off his bat with a 100.5-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™. The Dominican Republic totaled six hits against Dempster throughout the rally, which began with a double by right fielder Nelson Cruz. Gregory Polanco and Bautista each contributed RBI singles around Castillo's long ball.
Machado flashes leather: It didn't take long for O's star Manny Machado to get himself into the highlight reel for the Dominican Republic. The two-time Gold Glove Award winner robbed Canada's Freddie Freeman of a likely leadoff hit in the second, plucking the line drive from the air with an impressive leaping grab.
Bautista blast: The Dominican Republic ran away with it in the sixth inning, when Bautista punctuated the win with a three-run home run, extending his team's lead to six runs. The homer traveled an estimated 415 feet at 107.7 mph, per Statcast™. Shortstop Jose Reyes, a catalyst for the Dominicans throughout the night, got the inning started with a leadoff single. Machado added a base hit before Bautista brought them all home. Both Bautista and Reyes finished with three hits, while Bautista drove in four of the Dominican Republic's nine runs.
All-Star 'pen: The Dominican bullpen backed up Martinez's performance by limiting Canada to one run over five innings, shutting the door by deploying a quartet of All-Star relievers. Alex Colome, Dellin Betances, Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia held the Canadians hitless for three innings to end the game. Rodney and Familia combined to strike out all three of the batters they faced in the ninth.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS A fired-up Martinez lit up the radar gun in the first inning, reaching 100.6 mph on a fastball to Justin Morneau. That's faster than all but four of the pitches he threw for the Cardinals in 2016. Martinez's 100.4-mph pitch to Tyler O'Neill on Thursday also would have landed in his top 10 last season.
WHAT'S NEXT Canada: Team Canada has a day off Friday before it takes on Colombia at noon ET on Saturday. A matchup with the United States looms Sunday at 7 p.m..
Dominican Republic: The Dominican Republic resumes play Saturday with a highly anticipated contest against the United States at 6:30 p.m.. The Dominicans conclude Pool C play against Colombia on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.