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3/15/2013 12:21 A.M. ET

Dominicans catch Kimbrel on rare off night

MIAMI -- When it comes to Craig Kimbrel, the numbers don't lie.

The Braves closer is about as automatic as there is in the game. Consider his All-Star 2012 season, when he appeared in 63 games. In every one of them, he never allowed as many as two runs or two hits.

Kimbrel's body of work speaks for itself, which makes what transpired in the ninth inning on Thursday night at Marlins Park so improbable.

The Dominican Republic scored twice on two hits off Kimbrel on its way to upending Team USA, 3-1, in front of a festive and vocal crowd of 34,366.

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How do you explain what occurred in Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic?

Kimbrel makes no excuses.

"Well, we're not in last year any more," he said flatly. "It's a new year. It happens. Great lineup over there. All we can do is come out and win the game tomorrow."

The setback puts the United States in a must-win situation on Friday at 7 p.m. ET against Puerto Rico on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.

What's at stake is simple. The winner advances, along with the Dominican Republic, to San Francisco for the semifinal round. Friday's winner also plays the Dominican Republic on Saturday in Miami in a game that will decide final four seeding.

For the loser, the tournament comes to an end.

"Win tomorrow and we're going to San Francisco," Kimbrel said.

Kimbrel entered in a tense top of the ninth inning with the score knotted at 1.

Nelson Cruz set the tone with a leadoff double to right-center. On the play, right fielder Giancarlo Stanton made an all-out leaping, backhanded grab to prevent the ball from rolling back any deeper. He sprang up and threw to second, trying to toss out Cruz.

"I figured I'd have a play to get him at second," Stanton said. "He just beat me there. That was just my thought process. Maybe he jogs, thinks it's a double on his own, and I come in and sneak one in on him. I just missed him."

The entire ninth inning was a series of just misses for the United States.

Carlos Santana's groundout to second advanced Cruz to third with one out. The infield was drawn in, and Erick Aybar pinch-hit for Ricardo Nanita.

Kimbrel got the benefit of a pitch away that was called strike two by home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Briefly, Aybar protested as the Dominican Republic faithful hissed.

The next pitch was a 97 mph inside fastball that Aybar turned on and slapped into right field for the go-ahead RBI. Aybar swiped second, and Jose Reyes padded the lead with a run-scoring single that skipped just under the glove of diving shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

"My job is to go out there in the most pressure situation of the game," Kimbrel said. "I just wasn't able to get the job done today."

You have to go back to Sept. 19, 2011, to find the last time Kimbrel gave up two runs in an inning of a regular-season game. That night also happened to be in Miami, at the Marlins' old ballpark, Sun Life Stadium.

Kimbrel surrendered a walk-off homer to Omar Infante that night, which had playoff implications because it helped the Cardinals in the Wild Card race.

Typically, Kimbrel is lights-out. The right-hander last year had a stretch from May 8 through the end of the season in which he gave up just three runs and had an 0.52 ERA in that stretch.

"Well, they earned it," Team USA manager Joe Torre said of the Dominican Republic. "They beat a great one. He's something special now."

With so much noise and atmosphere, it was hard to imagine Thursday's game was in the middle of March, at a time all 30 big league teams are playing Spring Training games.

"It feels like October, not March," Kimbrel said. "But we lost tonight. I didn't go out and do my job. All we can do as a team is put this game behind us, and come out tomorrow and beat Puerto Rico."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.