March 20, 2013
The Undefeated Dominicans
Watching a championship game between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico without having seen most of the previous contests between the two rival countries is a little like starting a show in its fourth-season finale. There are story arcs, plot points, and dramatic payoffs you’re only vaguely aware of, and you missed the episode where they introduced the first baseman. Fortunately, most baseball games are bottle episodes, and most of the actors have faces you’ve seen before. And from the first pitch of last night’s WBC final on, it was clear to anyone watching that both teams really, really wanted to win.
In Puerto Rico, many people were able to watch the game for free in movie theaters and public squares. In the mainland US, many people weren't able to watch the game at all, depending on their cable providers. So in case you couldn’t or didn’t see most of the tournament but clicked here to find out how it ended, let me briefly set the scene. Previously on the WBC, the Dominicans went 3-0 in the first round, 3-0 in the second round (in which the bullpen threw 12 2/3 shutout innings), and defeated the Netherlands 4-1 on Monday night to advance to the finals (with four more scoreless innings in relief). They entered the game as the tournament’s only remaining undefeated team. Puerto Rico knocked off two-time WBC winners Japan on Sunday and reached the final with a 5-3 record (but an 0-2 tally against the DR). Due to their dominance in earlier rounds, the Dominican got last licks on Tuesday.
After both lineups were introduced and three national anthems were sung, which made some of the almost 36,000 fans at AT&T Park
sleepy, the game got underway, with Dominican starter Samuel Deduno opposing Puerto Rican starter Giancarlo Alvarado. You might remember Deduno from the 2012 Twins, who called him up last July after every other member of their Opening Day rotation got hurt or pitched poorly. You might not remember Alvarado, since he’s never pitched in the majors. He has pitched just about everywhere else, including six organizations’ minor-league systems, the Mexican League, the Atlantic League, and the Japan Central League, where he’s spent the last three of his 17 professional seasons.
Deduno is 29, has thrown 84 2/3 innings in the majors, and barely cracked a rotation that ended 2012 with an AL-worst 5.40 ERA. Those facts suggest that there’s something missing, and there is: control. Deduno walked almost as many batters as he struck out last season, posting a lower K:BB ratio than any AL pitcher but Kyle Drabek and deadballer-in-disguise Aaron Cook. But after holding the US to one run over four innings (and 80 pitches) last week, Deduno again conquered his control issues, or at least battled them to a draw, in the WBC final. He fell behind 3-0 to Angel Pagan in the first, giving up a leadoff single on a 3-1 meatball, but he recovered to get a groundout from Irving Falu and strike out Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina to end the inning. He'd allow only one more hit on the evening.