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.
In a game that felt more like a championship than a consolation, South Korea held off Chinese Taipei to conclude its World Baseball Classic on a bittersweet note, earning an 11-8 victory in 10 innings on Thursday at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea.
Playing as the away team in front of a lively and proud home crowd, Korea squandered an early six-run lead before Euiji Yang's sacrifice fly scored Jaewon Oh with the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th. Taekyun Kim's pinch-hit two-run homer off losing pitcher Hung-Wen Chen padded the lead, ensuring Korea's 2017 WBC experience wouldn't end without a win.
Korea's 10th-inning triumph made a winner of closer Seung Hwan Oh, who escaped a jam to send the game to extra innings, and ended a hard-fought night on a sour note for Chinese Taipei, which fought back furiously but finished the tournament with an 0-3 record. Korea entered the tournament a favorite to advance out of pool play, but for the second consecutive World Baseball Classic, it didn't advance past the first round.
There may not have been too much drama on the surface, as both teams entered play eliminated from the WBC '17 following two early losses. But that was before Thursday's game evolved into an intense battle full of offense, ejections and energy. The two teams combined to score 19 runs on 31 hits, leave 21 men on base and five hit batters.
Korea's win saved it the stress of having to qualify for the next World Baseball Classic, which Chinese Taipei will have to do now that it finished last in Pool A. The Netherlands and Israel advanced from Pool A and will travel next to Tokyo for the second round.
Korea scored six runs in the first two innings and led 8-3 after its turn to bat in the fourth. Korea finished with 18 hits, a dramatic turnaround for an offense that had managed only one run in 19 innings entering the contest.
"I think I included younger players this time, and they learned a lot," Korean manager In-Sik Kim said. "I believe they learned a great deal. When they go back to their own team and when we have another national team, they will serve as a core part of the national team."
Korea put together a five-run second inning and had the bases loaded with two outs, but Chih-Hao Chang made a diving stab of Yang's line drive to left field to end the inning. Korea brought 11 men to the plate in the frame, scoring on RBI hits by Geonchang Seo, Yongkyu Lee, Ah-seop Son and a sacrifice fly by Lee.
Chinese Taipei responded with five runs spread out over four innings and spent the entire game fighting back against seven Korean pitchers. Chinese Taipei scored three runs in the second, and inched closer on Che-Hsuan Lin's two-run homer off Korea reliever Changmin Sim in the fourth. Yung-Chi Chen's RBI single tied the game at 8 in the seventh.
Ultimately, the game served as a dramatic ending to a disappointing tournament for both teams.
"Team Taiwan and also Team Korea suffered two losses, so we really wanted to win this game," said Taipei coach Fu-Lien Wu, who met with the media since manager Tai-Yuan Kuo was ejected. "So we did our best, and it is a pity that we missed the opportunity."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED You don't look sick to me: Kim's insurance blast in the 10th punctuated a surprisingly tense game on an unlikely note. Kim, who sent a Chen breaking ball into the left-field seats, didn't start because of an illness. He ended up playing a pivotal role in the game's finish.
Oh & Wang: Oh, baby! Both teams relied on late-inning relievers to defuse tense jams in the late innings with the game tied. Taipei turned to Chen to escape a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the top of the ninth. Korea brought on Oh after Chih-Hsien Chiang doubled to lead off the frame. Wang needed one pitch to retire the side, while Oh conjured up two strikeouts and a harmless fly to send the game to extras.
"I sent Oh to the mound earlier than I expected, but I'm sorry for him because he pitched for two innings," Kim said. "I thanked him for the victory." More >
Scary moment: Former Mariners first baseman Dae-Ho Lee was hit by a pitch on the earflap of his batting helmet during Korea's five-run second inning. Lee went to the ground and was attended to by training staff for a few minutes before walking to first base to a nice ovation. Lee was hit again in the sixth inning, on the front foot by a bouncing breaking ball from reliever Sheng-Hsiung Huang, who was ejected.
Bat control: Korea left fielder Yongkyu Lee's second hit of the afternoon, a bloop single he golfed into right off Wei-Lun Pan, didn't just start Korea's two-rally in the fourth. It also provided one of the game's most GIF-able moments when Lee, perhaps unsure if his hit would fall safely, carried his bat with him all the way to first base, rounding it with the stick still in his hands.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Korea continued its historical World Baseball Classic dominance against Chinese Taipei with the win, improving to 4-0 all-time. Even when Chinese Taipei advanced to the second round in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, its one loss in pool play came against Korea.
A confident Australia team easily got by China, 11-0, on Thursday at Tokyo Dome, setting up a crucial matchup with Cuba in the World Baseball Classic on Thursday night.
The Australians didn't make it past the first round in any of the first three tournaments, and some of the team's older players are still smarting from a 5-4 loss to Cuba that cost them a chance in 2009. Now, with an experienced team and the momentum from Thursday's victory, they believe this is the time to break through.
"I think we're in this with a massive chance," Australia manager Jon Deeble said. "I think this is our chance to win, and the players believe."
Australia's win over China eliminated the Chinese team from the WBC 2017 and sent host Japan to the second round. The winner of the Australia-Cuba game, scheduled for 10 p.m. ET on Thursday, will join Japan in the second-round pool that begins Sunday at Tokyo Dome.
While the Cuba game always loomed, the Aussies didn't take China lightly. Deeble chose to start Travis Blackley, a 34-year-old left-hander with 82 games of Major League experience. When Australia took an early 4-0 lead, Deeble removed Blackley after 48 pitches to preserve his eligibility to possibly start the opening game of the second round.
Blackley got Australia two outs into the fifth inning and allowed just two hits, neither of which left the infield. Luke Hughes gave Australia a lead with a two-run home run in the third inning, and he later added a two-run double. When James Bereford extended Australia's lead to double digits with his eighth-inning grand slam, the tournament's early-termination rule came into effect and the game ended after eight innings.
Quickly, the Australians turned their attention to Cuba.
"Destiny's in our hands," Hughes said. "We're excited and look forward to the challenge."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Blackley delivers: Deeble sent Blackley to the mound expecting to let him approach the 65-pitch single-game limit for the first round. But Blackley's efficiency and Australia's early lead changed the strategy, and Deeble began thinking about a possible Sunday game to begin the second round. By holding Blackley to 48 pitches, Deeble made him eligible to start Sunday.
"I was a little surprised to see him come out [to the mound]," Blackley said. "I was hoping to get through the fifth inning. Hopefully that will come in the second round now." More >
Hughes hits it hard: Hughes hasn't played in the Major Leagues since the A's released him in July 2012. He's played the past five years with the Perth Heat in the Australian League, where he homered three times in 24 games in the just-completed season.
A name to remember?: China's starter was 21-year-old Kwon Ju, who grew up in Korea and plays for the KT Wiz in the Korea Baseball Organization. He gave up three hits in three innings, including Hughes' two-run home run, but scouts suggest he could project as a back-end starter in the Major Leagues someday.
Triple threat: Deeble made a lineup change Thursday, inserting 31-year-old Trent D'Antonio in the leadoff spot. D'Antonio, who played three seasons in the Marlins' organization without making it past Class A, made the move look good with a two-run triple in the fourth inning. D'Antonio was helped by China center fielder Zhenghong Lu, who tried to dive for the ball and saw it get by him.
QUOTABLE "We've had success against Cuba before. They don't scare us." -- Deeble
"We just didn't show up. I'm disappointed. I thought we would make a better showing. I just told the guys I was expecting more out of them. This is a great tournament and we're trying to survive, keep this going. And the odds are not in our favor." -- John McLaren, China's manager
WHAT'S NEXT China: Retired Major Leaguer Bruce Chen is expected to return to the mound in relief Friday (5 a.m. ET) for China's final game against host Japan. Right-hander Quan Gan will start. Right-hander Sho Takeda starts for Japan.
Australia: The Aussies will start Tigers right-hander Warwick Saupold on Thursday night (10 p.m. ET) against Cuba, in a game that will determine which team advances to the second round. Ace right-hander Lazaro Blanco starts for Cuba.
Israel came into the 2017 World Baseball Classic an underdog, but after sweeping through the first round, the team looks like anything but.
The Israelis beat the Netherlands, 4-2, at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Thursday to win Pool A with a 3-0 record. They jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead and held on against a strong Dutch team boasting its fair share of prominent Major Leaguers. In the country's first Classic, Israel will advance to the second round.
The Dutch will advance, too -- both teams had already punched their ticket before the game by virtue of their 2-0 starts in Pool A, with each having beaten host Korea and Chinese Taipei. Israel and the Netherlands will slot into Pool E, which begins at the Tokyo Dome this weekend. Japan, 2-0 in Pool B, has also secured a spot in Pool E and will be joined by either Cuba, Australia or China.
The second round, like the first, will follow a round-robin format, with the top two teams advancing to the Classic's championship round at Dodger Stadium. Israel will play in the first game of the second round, on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET against the runner-up from Pool B, live on MLB.TV. The Netherlands will play against the Pool B winner at 6 a.m. ET on Sunday, live on MLB.TV and MLB Network.
Trailing, 4-1, in the eighth inning on Thursday, the Netherlands got the go-ahead run to the plate against Israel, loading the bases with one out and two of its stars, the Orioles' Jonathan Schoop and the Yankees' Didi Gregorius, coming up. But right-hander Josh Zeid -- who also closed out Israel's Classic-opening win over Korea -- got out of the jam with only one run coming across.
Zeid forced what should have been a double-play ball from Schoop, but second baseman Tyler Krieger's throw to second was too high and everyone was safe as the Dutch made it a 4-2 game. But Zeid then induced another tailor-made grounder from Gregorius, and Israel turned two to escape the inning. Zeid stayed on to pitch a scoreless ninth and earn his second save.
The two starting pitchers only went an inning apiece before each team worked in a full slate of relievers. Israel's 38-year-old Jason Marquis, who was starting his second game of the first round and seems likely to get the ball again for the second-round opener, tossed a scoreless inning before being lifted. The Netherlands' Rob Cordemans, who at age 42 has now pitched in all four World Baseball Classics, allowed three runs.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Israel's fast start: The Israelis wasted no time jumping on the Netherlands. They racked up four hits and two walks in a span of seven batters in the bottom of the first inning, opening up a 3-0 lead. After Ty Kelly drew a walk to get things started with one out, Ike Davis flared an opposite-field single, Nate Freiman ripped an RBI double into the left-field corner, Zach Borenstein followed with an RBI groundout and Ryan Lavarnway singled home Israel's third run.
Diving Dutchman: Schoop, part of the Netherlands' stacked infield along with the Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts, the Angels' Andrelton Simmons and Gregorius, flashed some leather to stop Israel from adding to a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth. With runners on first and second and two outs, Borenstein smoked a ball up the middle. But the Orioles' second baseman made an impressive diving stop to his backhand, then threw from his knees to Gregorius to force the runner at second and end the inning.
Burcham helps out his pitcher: Not to be outdone by Schoop, Israel shortstop Scott Burcham made a slick defensive play to quash a Netherlands rally before it began in the seventh inning. The Dutch had the leadoff man on when Dashenko Ricardo chopped a comebacker at reliever Dylan Axelrod. Axelrod snagged the chopper but wheeled and threw wild in the dirt to the right side of second base. Burcham, on the run to the bag, somehow scooped the throw on a short hop, held the bag with his foot, avoided the runner bearing down on him and tossed to first to complete the double play.
Profar continues to shine: One of the bright spots for the Netherlands in the first round of the Classic was the Rangers' Jurickson Profar. Profar went 3-for-3 with two doubles against Israel to finish play in Pool A with a .545 average (6-for-11), a team-leading 1.583 OPS, a home run and three RBIs.
WHAT'S NEXT Netherlands: As the second-place finisher in Pool A, the Netherlands moves along to the second round, where they will play alongside Israel and the top two finishers from Pool B. They play their first game Sunday at 6 a.m. ET at the Tokyo Dome against the Pool B winner. Watch it live on MLB.TV and MLB Network.
Israel: The winner of Pool A, Israel will now play the opening game of the second round of the Classic. That will be against the second-place team from Pool B at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday in Tokyo. Watch it live on MLB.TV.