DR dominance: Dominican Republic team begins rinsing off national shame with win in WBC opener

Tim Brown

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Not so long after he was the left fielder for the Chicago Cubs, he was a reserve for the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic team, and because of that Moises Alou bears not one burden, but two.

Just recently he signed an autograph. The gentleman thanked him and then, as he walked away from the six-time All-Star, said over his shoulder, "Hey, Bartman says hello."

A week later, Alou smiled thinly.

"I felt like punching the guy," he said.

So, there's that.

Fighting age and injury, Alou retired after the 2009 WBC, a tournament in which the well-regarded Dominicans failed to advance out of the first round. The Netherlands beat them twice. Alou was hitless in two at-bats in what was considered a national humiliation.

Four years later, Alou smiled. Yeah, thinly.

"Oh-nine is like the Bartman thing," he said. "You get asked about it every day."

Some teams would shrug and walk away, scatter to their various big league rosters and the regular season and forget the whole thing happened. It's just a baseball tournament, after all, played at a clumsy time with pitch limits and odd tiebreakers and mercy rules and vaguely national nationals.

The baseball factories don't take it quite that way. Not this one, anyway. And while it may not have registered in the U.S. as anything more than a peculiarity, the Dominican's elimination at the hands of the Dutch was not forgiven – or forgotten – on the streets of Santo Domingo.

No disrespect to the Netherlands, Alou said, "But it's kind of embarrassing.

"It's like Brazil losing to the Dominican in soccer. We have to live with that a long time. This is time to redeem ourselves."

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Years pass, most of the roster turns over, Alou is not a player but the team's general manager (and his father, Felipe, is not the field manager; Tony Pena is), and the Dominicans find themselves in the same venue, Hiram Bithorn Stadium. And still, Alou said, "What happened in '09 is something everybody has in the back of their mind."

And so on a hot, misty Thursday night here, the vaunted national team of the Dominican Republic – of Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana and Miguel Tejada – began to work its way back to something it wouldn't regret for another four years. It drew Venezuela, the other power in Pool C, first, with undermanned but game Puerto Rico and overmatched Spain to follow.

In a game as long as it was sweaty and unattractive, that saw 15 pitchers (nine for the Dominican Republic), that had a rain delay, and that meant as much to the Dominicans as an exhibition in early March could, they won, 9-3. They'll still have to win another one to advance, then still have work ahead of them after that. And, you know, the Netherlands is still out there somewhere.

But, their fans waved their flags, and the other fans glared at their manager (Luis Sojo, in this case), and for a few – OK, several – hours, losing a baseball game on a national stage was somebody else's problem.

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Before batting practice, Pena had reminded them all of the importance of these games, and of this one in particular, in a clubhouse oration. Then they played like they cared about the outcome. Venezuelan starter Anibal Sanchez faced seven batters, retired one of them, and then a 50-minute rain delay ended his night. The Dominicans led, 3-0, then 5-0. Reyes had four hits, Cano had three. Santana drew four walks. Ramirez homered.

"I believe these guys are on a mission," Pena said. "They do not want to waste a single moment."

It ended in the rain, not long after a gorgeous backhand-flip-bare-hand double play turned by Cano and Reyes, and then with an arrow shot into the night by Fernando Rodney. They'd outhit the Venezuelans, 13-6. They'd not committed an error. They'd won, and for a moment they'd lightened a four-year burden. It won't last for long, of course, though Pena – for their efforts and because the game ran into early Friday morning – canceled Friday's practice. The Venezuelans would return in 10 hours.

Spain lies ahead for the Dominicans, which would seem easy enough. And yet Cano shook his head and grinned. Tightly.

"We're not going to get overconfident," he said. "So we don't have the same thing happen."

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