Reliving the moment was a blur for Orioles third baseman Manny Machado -- the swing, the trot out of the batter’s box and watching his home run soar into the South Florida night. And then there was that crowd, a convincingly pro-Dominican throng that cheered every Dominican hit, and every Team USA out Saturday night.
In some ways, Machado said, it was that crowd that kept the Dominican Republic within reach as it fell into a five-run hole to Team USA with 12 outs left in their pivotal World Baseball Classic pool-play game Saturday night at Marlins Park.
Down but not out, Machado provided the spark the Dominicans needed in the sixth inning, when he launched an 0-1 fastball from Washington Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark an estimated 435 feet just shy of the left-field concourse, sending the crowd into a frenzy and propelling the Dominican Republic to seven unanswered runs in their 7-5 comeback win over a shell-shocked Team USA.
“I had no idea what I was doing running the bases,” said Machado, who was playing just a 10-minute drive from where he grew up in Hialeah. “We knew we were down and we needed something. … At that point, it was all about scoring runs. We didn’t care about anything else. We just wanted to go out there and start scoring runs, start doing what we knew we could do.”
Nelson Cruz delivered the decisive blow, hitting a three-run homer off lockdown left-hander Andrew Miller in the eighth inning to claim the lead.
Team USA was outmanned – a pro-Dominican sellout crowd of 37,446 (the largest to watch baseball in the five-year history of Marlins Park) was loud throughout, no swatch of the ballpark absent of fans waving the Dominican flag, blowing horns and beating drums.
The crowd exulted every Dominican accomplishment, no matter how minor, and were no louder than when Cruz took Miller deep – they were teammates briefly with the Orioles as part of the 2014 division-winning team. Cruz lined an 0-2 slider inside the left-field flag pole, a blast that made Marlins Park erupt.
As Cruz rounded the bases, his Dominican teammates hopped over the dugout railing, jumped onto the field and mobbed him after reaching home plate. Machado greeted his good friend with the custom handshake they created while teammates in Baltimore.
But Cruz said it was Machado’s homer that changed the momentum of the game.
“I think after he hit the homer, not only the crowd, but we as players, we got pumped up, too,” Cruz said. “We needed something to break the ice and that’s what we needed to get it going.”
Orioles connections were all over, including new catcher Welington Castillo, who also contributed to the Dominican comeback, lacing an RBI double in the seventh inning that cut the USA lead to 5-3.
Before the game, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who was the hero of Team USA’s tournament-opening walk-off win Friday, emerged from the his team’s dugout Saturday and saw Machado taking ground balls at shortstop, wearing the uniform of the Dominican Republic. The two quickly met each other’s gaze and offered each other a quick salute before resuming their pregame routines.
“That’s my boy and obviously we grind 162 together,” Jones said of Machado. “But right now for about two weeks, we’re against each other in the [spirit] of friendly competition and that’s what this game it about.”
Team USA was six outs away from clinching a trip to the second round, but instead experienced a rare implosion by Miller, who was Team USA manager Jim Leyland’s top bullpen weapon. After allowing Cruz’s blast, Miller immediately yielded another home run, this one to center fielder Starling Marte, which gave the Dominicans a 7-5 lead.
“It’s almost Game Over,” Cruz said about when Miller comes into the game. “To be able to come back against that bullpen, it’s remarkable. Definitely the confidence we have right now is pretty high.”
Before the game, Jones said Team USA’s goal was to take the crowd out of the game early by jumping on top quickly.
“You see the pride, you can hear the bongos and all the noise that’s going on right now,” Jones said. "And it’s going to be like this for nine innings. What we need to do is take that early lead and hopefully quiet them down.”
Jones – whose game-winning walk-off single with two outs in the 10th on Friday saved Team USA from a wobbly tournament opener against upstart Colombia – was in the middle of the action again Saturday.
With Ian Kinsler on first after a two-out single in the third, Jones rocketed an 0-2 fastball from Dominican starter Edinson Volquez into the right-center-field gap, a ball that initially seemed destined to fall but hung in the air.
Cruz caught Jones’ drive, but the ball popped out of his glove when his arm collided with Marte’s arm, sending the ball to the warning track.
Kinsler scored and Jones landed on third, where he encountered Machado for the only time during the game. Jones then scored on Christian Yelich’s bloop single to left. Team USA went up 3-0 on Brandon Crawford’s two-out RBI single in the fourth that chased Volquez from the game.
Team USA added two more to go up 5-0 in the sixth, on Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton’s RBI double into the left-center gap off former Orioles farmhand Jumbo Diaz and an RBI double by Crawford.
The win gave the Dominican its 10th straight WBC win and put them in control of winning Pool C with a win over Colombia Sunday. The USA can advance without a tiebreaker with a win over Canada and a Dominican win over Colombia.