In its third installment, the World Baseball Classic will have its first winner outside of Japan. The Dominican Republic has yet to lose a game this tournament and will try to continue that streak Tuesday night in the championship game in San Francisco. They will face Caribbean counterpart Puerto Rico whom they’ve beaten already — in two separate, low-scoring games.
Should the Dominican side continue their winning ways Tuesday, they would be the first WBC team to go undefeated in the tournament. And their unblemished record shows they are the favorite heading into the matchup. Japan, who won both of the first two WBC tournaments, lost three games in 2006 en route to the tournament’s inaugural championship and then lost two games in 2009’s tournament, when they repeated as champs.
The Dominican Republic has thrice headed into the WBC tournament as the favorites to take home the hardware — this year being the third consecutive time. However, they failed miserably in both previous tournaments and have left many Dominican fans angered. Adding to Tuesday night’s excitement is the camaraderie between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Geographically, roughly 80 miles separates them. On the baseball diamond, they’re fierce competitors–or for some, best friends and teammates. The entire Dominican Republic roster plays professionally in Major League Baseball, and only four players on the Puerto Rico roster play professionally elsewhere than the MLB.
The two sides know what is at stake — claiming their rights as the Caribbean’s (and the world’s, allegedly) best. But this is baseball, and with 27 outs to work with, anything can realistically happen. An off night from starting pitcher Samuel Deduno, who has been impeccable for the Dominican Republic thus far, could be their downfall. Or perhaps their star-studded lineup — it features Robinson Canó, José Reyes and Miguel Tejada — forget their bats in the dugout. This will be the more likely scenario of Puerto Rico pulling off an upset at AT&T Park, where 35-year-old starting pitcher Giancarlo Alvarado, who failed to make it to the big leagues in the 90’s, will be expected to pitch a better game than he’s ever pitched against the best players he has ever faced in one lineup. Puerto Rico aren’t without their own MLB sluggers, though. Carlos Beltrán and Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals, Alex Ríos of the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants’ Ángel Pagán are all capable of leading Puerto Rico to victory on any given night.
No matter the outcome, this showdown should be one worth remembering. It could make the years between tournaments seem much longer than they really are, as at least one team will be waiting to enact its revenge. And as previously noted, this could finally be, if not already, the game that makes the WBC into the global platform that it originally set out to be.