MIAMI (AP) — Pinch-hitter Erick Aybar singled home the go-ahead run in the ninth to lead the Dominican Republic past the United States 3-1 on Thursday, earning a berth in the final round of the World Baseball Classic.
The Dominicans, who improved to 5-0, are 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 play Puerto Rico on Friday night, with the winner earning a trip to San Francisco and the loser being eliminated.
Playing against the U.S. for the first time in the WBC, the Dominicans drew raucous support from the crowd all night, especially in a noisy ninth.
With the score level at 1-all, Nelson 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.
Until Aybar's hit, the Dominicans were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
Aybar then stole second and scored on a two-out single by Jose Reyes.
Former Miami Marlin Hanley Ramirez silenced the 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 for the Dominicans. Fernando Rodney, the fifth Dominican pitcher, followed with a perfect ninth to complete a six-hitter for his fourth save. He has yet to allow a hit in 4 1-3 innings.
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.
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 National League 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 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.
The U.S. team was without slugger David Wright, who was scratched shortly before the game because of sore ribs.