3/19/2013 3:45 A.M. ET
Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico clash for title
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- There was Rocky III and Ali-Frazier III. Now it will be the Dominican Republic vs. Puerto Rico, act three, in this year's World Baseball Classic.
The D.R. and P.R. will meet in Tuesday's first all Latin Classic championship game at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Tuesday at AT&T Park. The clash of the Caribbean neighbors is available in the U.S. on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
Giancarlo Alvarado is slated to start for Puerto Rico against Samuel Deduno for the Dominican Republic.
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"There's always been a rivalry between the Dominican and Puerto Rico in everything," Moises Alou, the former Major Leaguer who is now the D.R.'s general manager, said after his club defeated The Kingdom of the Netherlands, 4-1, in the semifinals on Monday night. "In sports and a lot of other things. We're close to each other. I know this game is going to mean a lot to both countries tomorrow."
Puerto Rico is a U.S. Commonwealth and the Dominican shares an island with Haiti farther to the south. The two have been battling for bragging rights in the Caribbean World Series for eons and in this year's Classic, they met in the last game of each of the opening two brackets and the D.R. won both games.
At Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the D.R. prevailed, 4-2, and this past Saturday at Marlins Stadium, the Dominicans came up with a 2-0 win. The Dominicans, on a 7-0 roll, could be the first team to go undefeated throughout the tournament if they win again on Tuesday. The P.R. is 5-3, having also lost to the U.S. in the second round.
Puerto Rico, though, is battle hardened. It won elimination games in the last week over Italy, the U.S. and two-time defending Classic champion Japan, which it defeated, 3-1, on Sunday in the other semifinal game.
"We take a lot of personal satisfaction as a team and as a people in what we've accomplished," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "When we get together, and I'm going to repeat this, the boys are very aware that this is not just a championship or just a sports game. We know what this means for the Puerto Rican people beyond the sports aspect and we're accomplishing that. You can feel that."
The two teams are stocked with Major Leaguers who have been playing with an uncommon amount of zeal and enthusiasm.
For the Dominican Republic, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano was the Most Valuable Player in each of the first two rounds and almost unquestionably will be named MVP of the tournament. He's had a strong support system with Jose Reyes and Fernando Rodney. Reyes had an RBI single in the four-run, fifth inning on Monday that sunk the Dutch. Rodney recorded his sixth save of the tournament on his 36th birthday and was holding a bright green plantain afterward that he claimed is his lucky charm.
Puerto Rico has been buoyed by great performances from Angel Pagan, Yadier Molina, Alex Rios and Carlos Beltran. Cano said he wasn't surprised that P.R. defeated the Japanese and were in position to face the D.R. for the third time.
"I wasn't surprised at all," Cano said. "Both teams made it all the way to the semifinals because both have great talent and both did their jobs. As I always say, you don't want to go out there and take anything for granted. We don't think we're a favorite. We've got to go out there and perform. It's not about what the team looks like on paper."
It hasn't all been easy for the Dominicans. In the second round, they had to come back from a 4-0, first-inning deficit to defeat Italy, and against the U.S., they snapped a 1-1 tie in the top of the ninth against closer Craig Kimbrel to win, 3-1.
The games have been taut and close. Even in Monday's win over the Dutch, the D.R. trailed, 1-0, heading into the fifth inning when it scored four times during a rally that began with back-to-back, one-out doubles by Carlos Santana and Moises Sierra.
Now it's down to this one last game: D.R.-P.R. III.
"Whoever wins the Baseball Classic it's really going to belong to the Caribbean," D.R. manager Tony Pena said. "It could be Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, but it will belong to the Caribbean. And Puerto Rico has had a great Classic just like us. And that's been one of our goals -- to respect our opponents and prepare mentally and physically to play a good ballgame.
"Now tomorrow, the Classic will be decided. We'll see who wins."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.