Dominicans finish unbeaten in pool play
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KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Dominican Republic is unbeaten and ready for round two -- even without Vladimir Guerrero.
The 2004 AL MVP will not join the Dominicans in the next round, as they had hoped, or for any games in the inaugural World Baseball Classic following a family tragedy. Guerrero pulled out of the first round after three cousins died in a car crash back home and did not return from bereavement leave in time to be added to the tournament roster.
"We had a window up until yesterday and it's just been shut," manager Manny Acta said Friday night. "We support his decision, stand behind him -- family comes first. And we're going to have to move on with what we have."
What they have is far from shabby.
Francisco Liriano flashed the nasty stuff that makes him one of the most prized pitching prospects in baseball, and the Dominican Republic held off Australia 6-4 Friday night to finish 3-0 in Pool D.
Also missing Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez, the star-laden Dominicans had already clinched first place in the group and a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the second round. They will open with Angels ace Bartolo Colon on the mound Sunday night against Cuba.
Shut out in its first two games on a total of two hits, Australia brought the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth inning. But Glenn Williams, who hit .425 in 40 at-bats with the Minnesota Twins last season, popped up against Damaso Marte for the final out.
"I think that's Australian baseball," losing pitcher Damian Moss said. "We're going to fight and we're not going to give up until the last out."
Luis Polonia pinch-hit for David Ortiz in the fourth inning and finished 2-for-2 with an RBI single for the Dominicans. The 42-year-old fan favorite played his last major league game in 2000.
"I am very aware that to an old ballplayer like me, that not often do we get this kind of opportunity," Polonia said. "I think this has been one of the highlights of my career."
Alberto Castillo hit a two-run double off Moss, Wily Mo Pena had an RBI single and Miguel Tejada added a sacrifice fly to the delight of 11,083 mostly Dominican Republic fans who sang and bounced to a tambora beat as they did all week in The Ballpark at Disney.
Australia finished 0-3 but finally scored its first runs of the tournament. Held to one hit in each of their previous two games, the Aussies broke out for seven against the Dominican Republic.
Cabrera started and allowed one run on three hits in 3 1/3 innings, throwing hard his entire outing.
"I think that was pretty impressive," Acta said. "I think the Orioles have a jewel there. Hopefully, he stays away from injuries and stuff. I see him being a potential Cy Young winner in the big leagues."
The 22-year-old Liriano followed with 2 2/3 impressive innings, fanning six and throwing 27 of 36 pitches for strikes in his first outing of the tournament.
The Twins' left-hander struck out 33 batters and walked seven in 23 2/3 big league innings last season, going 1-2 with a 5.70 ERA in six appearances.
"The kid has shown that he's not intimidated at all. He's got terrific stuff. I think he can go against any lineup in this tournament," Acta said.
Australia loaded the bases with none out on a single, an error and a walk, but Sanchez got Luke Hughes to bounce into a run-scoring double play.
Durrington drew a leadoff walk from Cabrera in the first inning, stole second and scored on Brett Roneberg's sacrifice fly.
Brendan Kingman hit an RBI single in the sixth for an unearned run against Liriano.
Moss went 12-6 with a 3.42 ERA in his 2002 rookie season with the Atlanta Braves and pitched in the playoffs that year against San Francisco. But he often struggled with his control, and spent last year with Triple-A Tacoma in the Seattle Mariners' organization.
Australia, which won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, was embarrassed in its WBC opener, a 10-0 loss to Italy that was stopped in the seventh inning because of the mercy rule. But the Aussies hung right in there the past two nights with effective pitching against Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, two of the strongest squads in the tournament.
"I think this was great for Australian baseball. It's another step from the Olympics," manager Jon Deeble said. "Hopefully, we get invited back to the next one and hopefully we can, instead of losing by two, maybe we can win by two."
Ronnie Belliard started at 3B for the Dominican Republic instead of Adrian Beltre, who had three homers and eight RBI in the first two games. ... Phillies prospect Bradley Harman doubled, singled and finished the tournament with three hits for Australia. He also made a leaping grab at SS of Willy Taveras' line drive. ... Australia's Gavin Fingleson tried to beat out a double play with a headfirst slide toward first but never made it to the bag.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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