The Dominican Republic defeated Venezuela 3-0 Thursday night in a must-win game at the 2017 World Baseball Classic to keep its hopes of a semifinal berth alive.
Both sides were in dire need of wins following 0-1 starts to play in Pool F, and the Dominicans broke through at the right time thanks to a couple of clutch at-bats and a stellar all-around pitching performance.
|Updated Pool F Standings (Through March 16)|
Although offense was in short supply, Dominican Republic left fielder Gregory Polanco got his side on the board with what proved to be a game-winning solo home run in the fifth inning, as MLB Network documented:
Robinson Cano tacked on an RBI single, and Nelson Cruz smacked a solo homer of his own in the bottom of the eighth. But the real story was the pitching and defense that allowed the Dominican Republic to silence Venezuela's bats.
Starter Edinson Volquez scattered four hits and struck out six over 4.1 scoreless innings, and a Dominican bullpen consisting of Fernando Abad, Hansel Robles, Dellin Betances, Alex Colome and Jeurys Familia held Venezuela to four hits combined once Volquez was pulled.
Of course, it helped that the Dominican Republic had Manny Machado manning the hot corner to help prevent baserunners from threatening in the first place.
MLB Network relayed video of Machado's signature toss from deep in foul territory, which came in the top of the sixth inning with Miguel Cabrera at the plate:
Speaking of Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers third baseman was forced to leave the game with back tightness. However, MLB Network's Jon Morosi was told by Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel that the move was just precautionary.
It's unclear if Cabrera will be available when Venezuela returns to the diamond Saturday.
Here's a look at the remaining schedule for Pool F play:
|2017 World Baseball Classic: Pool F Schedule|
|Friday, March 17||United States vs. Puerto Rico||10 p.m.|
|Saturday, March 18||Puerto Rico vs. Venezuela||3:30 p.m.|
|Saturday, March 18||United States vs. Dominican Republic||10 p.m.|
|Sunday, March 19||Tiebreaker (if necessary)||6 p.m.|
While Venezuela is in a 0-2 hole, carving out a spot in the semifinal is a long shot.
The story differs for the Dominican Republic, which has a chance to advance out of Pool F if it can take down the United States for a second time in seven days when the two sides meet Saturday.
If the first meeting was any indication, the showdown shouldn't lack for drama as two of the tournament's favorites clash in the Southern California spotlight.
Polanco was the hero of the game with his fifth-inning home run and was all smiles afterward, via MLB Network:
Meanwhile, the pitching was just as impressive to shut down the Venezuelan lineup, as six pitchers combined for the shutout.
"There's no question. We have a great bullpen," Dominican manager Tony Pena said, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "I was ready to go with all those guys right from the get-go. I told them before the game I will not save anybody today. I want to use everybody at any time. Just be ready."
On the other side, it's important not to overlook the work Jhoulys Chacin did until the fifth inning.
"He made a mistake—a home run," teammate Yangervis Solarte said, per Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "That happens in this game. But he pitched really, really good."
It could be enough to sink Venezuela's hopes in the World Baseball Classic.