MIAMI (AP) — Horns honked, percussion pulsed and school kids squealed. Miami can make quite a din when the Dominicans win.
The visiting team on the scoreboard, the Dominican Republic made itself at home by beating the United States 3-1 Thursday night to earn a berth in the final round of the World Baseball Classic.
Pinch-hitter Erick Aybar singled home Nelson Cruz with the go-ahead run in the ninth for the Dominicans, who improved to 5-0. The Dominican Republic is assured of a spot in the semifinals beginning Sunday in San Francisco, where two-time defending champion Japan and the Netherlands have already advanced.
The United States must now face Puerto Rico on Friday night, with the winner earning a trip to San Francisco and the loser being eliminated. Ryan Vogelsong will pitch for the Americans against Nelson Figueroa.
Playing the U.S. team for the first time ever in the WBC, the Dominicans drew raucous support all night, especially in a noisy ninth.
“No doubt it’s the best atmosphere I ever played in,” said Cruz, who has twice reached the World Series. “Thanks to the fans, we had extra motivation you don’t have every day.”
With the score 1-all, Cruz led off with a double against Craig Kimbrel (0-1), then took third on a groundout. Aybar singled sharply and ran to first with his index finger raised as his teammates poured out of the dugout to greet Cruz crossing the plate.
Aybar’s hit came one pitch after a called strike two left him irate.
“An umpire makes a mistake,” Aybar said. “What I did was forget about it and make contact.”
Until Aybar’s hit, the Dominicans were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
Aybar stole second and scored on a two-out single by Jose Reyes.
“They beat our closer,” U.S. manager Joe Torre said. “They beat a great one. You tip your hat to them.”
Former Miami Marlin Hanley Ramirez silenced jeers from the crowd with a home run in the second inning for the other Dominican run.
Pedro Strop (3-0) pitched a scoreless eighth. Fernando Rodney, the fifth Dominican pitcher, threw a perfect ninth to complete a six-hitter for his fourth save. He has yet to allow a hit in 4 1-3 innings.
With the final out, several teammates joined Rodney in his familiar arrow-shooting ritual. The victory left Dominican manager Tony Pena choking back tears.
“I feel so emotional,” he said in the interview room over the clamor of partying Dominicans on a nearby plaza. “Today was the battle of two titans.”
The retractable roof was closed, which reinforced the sound of the noisemakers favored by Dominican spectators. Their racket more than matched the cheers of U.S. fans in the crowd of 34,366.
There was plenty of flag-waving, even by the players. During the game someone gave the Americans a U.S. flag to hang in their dugout.
But the U.S. team was without slugger David Wright, scratched shortly before the game because of sore ribs.
Both starting pitchers benefited from umpire Angel Hernandez’s large strike zone, and they cooled off two teams that came into the game batting over .300.
R.A. Dickey, the NL Cy Young Award winner last year, gave up one run and struck out four in five innings. Minnesota Twins right-hander Samuel Deduno allowed one run and struck out seven, mostly on curves, in four innings for the Dominican Republic.
Deduno walked Eric Hosmer with the bases loaded to score the lone U.S. run in the opening inning. Deduno then went to 3-0 on Adam Jones but struck him out on a 3-2 breaking pitch to escape the jam.
Deduno also struck out Hosmer looking to end the third, then walked to the dugout shouting with both arms raised. He was just as demonstrative after fanning Jimmy Rollins to end the fourth.
Strop pounded his chest when he kept the score tied by getting three outs in the eighth.
“There’s passion on both sides,” Torre said. “It’s just showed a little different. It’s nothing we didn’t expect.”
Ramirez, traded by the Marlins during their dismal 2012 season, drew boos when he batted in the second. He responded by pulling a knuckler into the beer garden to make the score 1-all.