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Jones’ stunning catch punctuates Dominican Republic’s frustrating game

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO — No one has to tell Nelson Cruz what Adam Jones can do.

Cruz saw more than a few opponents get Jones-ed when the two played alongside each other in the Baltimore outfield in 2014.

But nothing like this.

Not a dream killer.

Center fielder Jones went over the fence to make the catch of the World Baseball Classic on Saturday night, and shortly after the Dominican Republic’s defense of its WBC title was taken away, too.

“Not like that, in this type of stage,” Cruz said when asked if he had seen Jones do that before.

“You are always surprised when you get robbed of a homer in this type of situation, in the importance of these games.”

Jones leaped high over the fence in right-center field — it only seemed as if he covered the 8.1 miles from Petco Park to Morse High, his alma mater in east San Diego — to take a home run away from Manny Machado in the seventh inning of the U.S.’s 6-3 victory in the WBC elimination game Saturday night.

Even Machado, Jones’s current teammate, seemed in awe.

Machado took his helmet off as he rounded first base and waved it several times in Jones’s direction.

Robinson Cano followed with a bases-empty homer to left-center field to pull the Dominican Republic within 4-3, but the team did not get another runner on base.

So the U.S. avenged its 7-5 loss to the Dominicans in the first round of pool play while advancing to the semifinals of the WBC for the second time in the four tournaments.

The Dominican Republic, who won eight straight games to capture the 2013 event, were eliminated from second-round play by losing to Puerto Rico and the U.S. here.

It was a bittersweet end to a team that both expected to be in L.A. and could have been expected to get there, befitting a squad that has a nine-figure payroll, something many major leagues general managers would covet. The 10 Dominican starters, the position players plus right-hander Ervin Santana, are to make $105.5 million in 2017. And that does not include cleanup hitter Jose Bautista, who did not play Saturday because of back stiffness. He is to make another $18.5 million this year.

“We were always planning to go to L.A,” Cruz said. “That was the plan. Unfortunately, they played better than us.”

That started with Jones and included the Dominican’s inability to get the timely hit.

Although Machado was not around to discuss it, Dominican manager Tony Pena understood the relevance of Jones’s thievery on the first batter in the last of seventh inning in a 4-2 game.

“If he didn’t catch the ball, it would have been a back-to-back home runs and it would have been a tie game,” Pena said.

Cano may not have seen the same pitch he did if Machado’s ball would have gotten over Jones’s outstretched glove and into fans’ awaiting hands — the photo tells it all — to cut the game to 4-3. But maybe he would have.

As it was, the Dominican was forced to think about what might have been in the earlier innings.

After scoring two runs in the first inning on an infield error, a double by Robinson Cano and a single by Carlos Santana, they were stymied. Crawford threw out Cruz, who had reached on a strikeout and a wild pitch, trying to score from third for the second out of the inning, and Danny Duffy got Adrian Beltre to ground out.

It only got more frustrating from there.

Dominican Republic’s Nelson Cruz, right, is tagged out by United States catcher Jonathan Lucroy during the first inning of a second-round World Baseball Classic baseball game Saturday, March 18, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

 

The Dominican Republic squandered an easy scoring opportunity in the second inning, when Gregory Polanco singled to open the inning and Welington Castillo hit a line drive past the bag at third into the left field corner. Polanco, who gobbles up ground, was held at third as Crawford caught the ball in short left field.

The conservative move made sense. The Dominican already had a 2-0 lead, and the next three batters were 1-2-3 hitters Jose Reyes, Machado and Cano. But Reyes popped out, Machado hit a fly ball to very short center field that offered Polanco no opportunity to tag up, and Cano was out on a routine grounder to shortstop.

The U.S reacted immediately with two runs in the third inning, and the Dominican was left wondering what would have happened had Polanco been waved home on Castillo’s double. Crawford has a strong arm, but Polanco likely would have been safe.

The U.S tied it in the third inning and took a 4-2 lead on Giancarlo Stanton’s two-run homer in the fourth, but the Dominicans put runners on second and third with one out in the fifth inning on Machado’s lead-off single and Cruz’s one-out double. Again, the runners never moved. Pat Neshek got Santana to pop out and struck out Starling Marte to end the inning.

“Whenever you don’t execute, you pay for it,” Pena said. “We had a chance to open the game in the second inning, we had a chance, too, in the fifth. At the end of the game, those things pay off.”

Dominican starter Ervin Santana, who was making his first appearance of the tournament, rolled through the first two innings, giving up only an infield single while using 21 pitches, nine pitches in the first. Things turned quickly, dramatically, starting with a looping single to right field by Stanton in the third inning that started the tying two-run rally.

Santana was gone after Stanton’s next at-bat — a home run into the second balcony of the Western Metal Supply Co. building down the left field line.

“They played better than us,” Santana said. “We had a lot of opportunity to score runs and didn’t get the job done, and they took every opportunity they had to score runs.”

Cruz echoed that.

“We pushed the envelope a few times with runners in scoring position, but we weren’t able to drive it in,” he said. “They (U.S. pitchers) did a great job, when they needed to, of getting ground balls so we didn’t score the runs.”



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