Round 1, Pool C, Game 6 | Sun, Mar 10

DOM 4, PUR 2

SAN JUAN, Puer­to Rico — Both the Domini­can Repub­lic and Puer­to Rico had already earned a place in the World Base­ball Clas­sic’s sec­ond round, so their meet­ing on Sun­day night to close out Pool C play would undoubt­ed­ly have the feel of an exhi­bi­tion, a Spring Train­ing game in homage to what the play­ers had been tak­en away from to rep­re­sent their homes on the base­ball field.

Some­one for­got to tell the play­ers and the base­ball-rabid fans who crammed into Hiram Bithorn Sta­di­um that this game was “mean­ing­less.” With brag­ging rights, as well as per­haps a more desir­able open­er in Round 2 against Team Italy, on the line, San Juan rocked as the Domini­can Repub­lic beat host Puer­to Rico, 4–2.

Robin­son Cano went 3‑for‑5, with a big home run, to fin­ish Pool C play 9‑for-15 with five RBIs. He was the clear and obvi­ous choice for MVP honors.

“You know that there’s always been that rival­ry between Puer­to Rico and Domini­can Repub­lic,” Cano said. “You can see the dif­fer­ence how the sta­di­um was today, and when they saw that home run, the sta­di­um almost fell apart.”

And Cano played for the “vis­it­ing” team, going 3–0 in Pool C play to lock up the first seed. That means it will play Tues­day after­noon against Italy (1 p.m. ET, MLB Net­work and ESPN Deportes) in Mia­mi. Puer­to Rico (2−1), los­ing for the first time in nine first-round games at home, will take on the Unit­ed States on Tues­day night (8 p.m.).

“There is no weak oppo­nent,” Domini­can man­ag­er Tony Pena said. “Italy, for what­ev­er rea­son, went down to the sec­ond round. It’s not a bad team. For some rea­son, they got there, but we have the same men­tal­i­ty. We’re going to study them and see what they have, and then from then on we’re going to know what we’re going to do.”

“As a play­er, the approach is going to be the same,” Cano said. “Go there, do my job, not try­ing to do too much but doing the lit­tle things. When you start lit­tle, you get big, and as Tony says, there is no easy opponent.”

The Domini­can Repub­lic did­n’t waste much time in try­ing to claim suprema­cy in this rival­ry when Edwin Encar­na­cion fol­lowed up one-out base hits from Erick Aybar and Cano with a sin­gle of his own that brought home Aybar for a 1–0 lead in the top of the first inning.

Puer­to Rico starter, and three-time World Base­ball Clas­sic vet­er­an, Orlan­do Roman set­tled down after that, pitch­ing into fourth inning, only allow­ing that lone run. That allowed Puer­to Rico to jump ahead in the fourth. Alex Rios led off the inning against Domini­can starter Wandy Rodriguez, who exit­ed because of pitch count one bat­ter lat­er. Loren­zo Barce­lo came in and imme­di­ate­ly served up a two-run homer to Mike Aviles, giv­ing the host team a 2–1 lead and send­ing Hiram Bithorn into a frenzy.

There was more par­ty­ing in the fifth inning, but this time it was the Domini­can faith­ful’s turn to cel­e­brate. Jose De La Torre, who had relieved Roman in the fourth by strik­ing out Aybar, gave up a lead­off homer to Cano, knot­ting the score at two and clinch­ing MVP honors.

“It feels won­der­ful, but it feels great to win and go on to the sec­ond round because we weren’t able to do it last time, and as I said, it’s a bit­ter taste to have to go back ear­ly,” Cano said. “But this time, it’s been different.”

The Domini­cans took the lead in the sixth when Car­los San­tana led off with a sin­gle off Twins 2012 draftee Jose Berrios. Ricar­do Nani­ta sac­ri­ficed him to sec­ond and Ale­jan­dro De Aza drilled a dou­ble off of the cen­ter-field wall to bring San­tana home and give the Domini­can Repub­lic a 3–2 lead.

Team Domini­cana tacked on an insur­ance run off Berrios in the sev­enth. The young right-han­der hit Encar­na­cion after strik­ing out Cano. Miguel Tejada’s ground-rule dou­ble sent Encar­na­cion to third and the Domini­can first base­man scored on Nel­son Cruz’s ground­out to shortstop.

After Barce­lo allowed the homer to Aviles, the Domini­can bullpen was out­stand­ing, putting up three zeros. Octavio Dotel was out­stand­ing, com­ing into the game in the sixth and induc­ing Aviles into an inning-end­ing dou­ble play before toss­ing a score­less seventh.

Puer­to Rico came alive when Angel Pagan led off the eighth with a triple off San­ti­a­go Casil­la. But Casil­la struck out Irv­ing Falu and Rios before Car­los Bel­tran’s long dri­ve to cen­ter was run down by Eury Perez to leave Pagan stranded.

While Puer­to Rico fell short on Sun­day, the team, too, heads to Mia­mi for Round 2. Man­ag­er Edwin Rodriguez feels that after fac­ing the line­ups of Venezuela and the Domini­can Repub­lic, fac­ing the Unit­ed States won’t be too shocking.

“When you fin­ish play­ing a round like we played, I believe that we’ve passed one of the tough­est tests,” Rodriguez said. “From now on, we are not sur­prised about any line­up that may come up. I believe that Venezue­la’s line­up and the Domini­can Repub­lic’s, we faced the most pow­er­ful in the whole Clas­sic, and we’ve gone through that and we’ve done quite well.

“So the line­up of Team USA, it’s strong, but I believe the kids passed the test.”

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for and writes a blog, B3. Fol­low @JonathanMayoB3 on Twit­ter. This sto­ry was not sub­ject to the approval of Major League Base­ball or its clubs.