SAN FRANCISCO -- Horns beeped through the chilly air Tuesday night, and flags flapped through the raindrops. At a ballpark with a statue of Juan Marichal out front, the Dominican Republic reached the pinnacle of international baseball competition.
After failing to get to the final in either of the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic, the Dominicans made this one their own. They won the championship by beating Puerto Rico, 3-0, becoming the first team to go undefeated in the tournament.
Samuel Deduno worked the first five innings and four relievers took care of the rest, holding Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and the Puerto Rican team to just three hits. It was the Dominicans’ third victory over Puerto Rico in this tournament, and eighth without a loss overall. Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics, in 2006 and 2009, but lost a combined five games along the way.
“We’ve got the game in our hearts, and we cannot hold it in,” reliever Octavio Dotel said after the medal ceremony. “It’s very exciting and we’re very proud, because we didn’t lose one game. This is unbelievable.”
The Dominicans pitched to a 1.75 earned run average this month, and the emphatic performance adds to their rich history of baseball. Marichal, the San Francisco Giants great who kicked his leg to the sky while delivering his pitches, is the only Hall of Famer to come from the nation. But 40 players from the Dominican Republic have made at least two All-Star teams, including several who bounced together on the mound after Fernando Rodney struck out Luis Figueroa to end the game.
It was the seventh save of the tournament for Rodney, who celebrated in his usual way, by shooting an imaginary arrow over the center- field scoreboard. Then his teammates engulfed him, many waving small flags. After a minute or two, Molina led the Puerto Rico team onto the field to hug and congratulate the champions.
“The only thing I can tell you is in the Dominican Republic, tonight, it will be nobody in the street,” manager Tony Pena said before the game. “There will not be anybody watching any other channel -- soap opera, news, nothing.The whole country will be watching the ballgame, because in the Dominican Republic, the No. 1 pastime is baseball.”
Jose Reyes started the party with the first at-bat of the game for his team. He lifted a pitch from Giancarlo Alvarado off the top of the brick wall in right field and exulted as he reached second base, gesturing with his arms to the Dominican dugout.
With Reyes on third and one out, Robinson Cano came to the plate. Cano, the most valuable player, was hitting .517 for the World Baseball Classic coming into the game, but the strategy of Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez was still startling.
Rodriguez ordered an intentional walk to Cano, the way his peers in the first-base dugout here once treated Barry Bonds. Puerto Rico’s best hope, of course, was that Edwin Encarnacion would ground into a double play and end the inning. Instead, he smoked a deep drive that curled past Angel Pagan and into the gap in right center.
Reyes and Cano scored, giving a lead to Deduno, who had fanned Beltran and Molina with a runner on second in the top of the first. He struck out two more in the second and wiggled free of another jam in the third.
Deduno, 29, bounced from the Colorado Rockies to the San Diego Padres in his first nine professional seasons, without getting a start in the majors. The Minnesota Twins gave him 15 starts last season, and while he struggled with control, Deduno mostly held his own. He was 6-5 with a 4.44 ERA, making eight quality starts for a team that ranked last in the American League in that category.
Deduno was a revelation last week in Miami, allowing one run in four innings against the United States, striking out seven. In the first round, he worked four shutout innings to beat Spain.
Pitching through heavy rain at the end of his start Tuesday, Deduno wobbled. He walked one in the fourth and two in the fifth, when he also threw a wild pitch. But center fielder Alejandro De Aza helped Deduno, racing down a deep drive by Andy Gonzalez for the second out, and Deduno whiffed Pagan on a breaking ball to end the threat.
It was Deduno’s final pitch, and he spread his arms wide, roaring as if the game were over. Pagan glared at him, but the Dominican team has thrived off such passion all tournament, with no apologies.
“Whenever you see this ballclub play, they play well out of emotion, because it is our culture,” Pena said. “It is what we live for. In the Dominican Republic, all little kids that are growing up, they want to be a baseball player.”