As expected, the Dominican Republic is in the 2013 World Baseball Classic final vs Puerto Rico. Raise your hand if you guessed it before the Classic started; I can barely see hands right now.
The powerful team of the Dominican Republic was one of the favorites to reach the final against two-time defending champ Japan. But the giant-killing machine from the 'Enchanted Island' had other plans.
One new champion will be crowned tonight at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The 2013 WBC final game will start at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Team Puerto Rico was supposed to stay at home after their first round in San Juan, when they were matched up against the Dominican and Venezuelan juggernauts in the same pool. But they upset mighty Venezuela and went on to the second round in Miami.
Since then, they have faced elimination three more times. They overcame a three-run deficit to defeat Italy 4-3 and silenced the USA and Japan, facing elimination on their way to the grand finale.
All grinding and agonizing wins in the eyes of their Puerto Rican fans but satisfying beyond any stretch of the imagination.
Now, they will face their Caribbean archrivals, the Dominican Republic.
The Dominicans are the only unbeaten team in the 2013 WBC and will try to become the first team to win the championship undefeated. Two-time champ Japan never achieve the feat, going 4-3 and 6-2 in their title runs.
Dominican Republic will be heavily favored to beat Puerto Rico, as they defeated them 4-2 in the first round and 2-0 in the second. But if we have learned something from the WBC this year, it's that there's no mountain too high for the Puerto Ricans to climb.
Puerto Rico might be the Rodney Dangerfield team of the WBC, as they have not earned the respect yet. But if there is a team in this tournament that will never take Puerto Rico lightly, it's the Dominican Republic.
Both teams know each other very well, since the players on each squad play in their respective countries' Winter League. Both countries face each other every single year in the Winter Baseball Caribbean Series.
Of the 55 championships in the Caribbean Series, both countries are the dominating forces with Dominican Republic having won 19 and Puerto Rico 14.
From San Juan to Santo Domingo is a short one-hour flight, and both countries have a history of a brotherhood-like rivalry between them. In music it's the Dominican 'Merengue' vs the Puerto Rican 'Salsa'; in food the Dominican 'Mangu' vs the Puerto Rican 'Mofongo', both made from plantain.
Yes, the same plantain that Fernando Rodney pulled out in the middle of the game last night to surprise his Dominican teammates.
You cannot ask for a better stage for these two archrivals to meet. Both teams are proud of representing their country and will surely put on a show today.
Puerto Rico will send to the mound veteran right-handed pitcher Giancarlo Alvarado (0-0, 4.15 ERA), a 35-year-old journeyman that has experience in the MLB minor leagues and has played in the Chinese and Nippon Professional Leagues.
In his last outing in the WBC, he took a shutout into the fifth inning against Italy but had to be replaced in the sixth inning after he loaded the bases. Two of those runners scored eventually with a double allowed by reliever Xavier Cedeno.
Dominican Republic will counter with Minnesota Twins right-hander Samuel Deduno (0-0, 2.25 ERA). Deduno was a key factor in the Dominican win over the USA Thursday night, keeping the big American bats at bay, allowing just one run over four innings.
The Dominicans have an impressive batting lineup. If you are an opposing pitcher and see their lineup, there is no rest for you anywhere from top to bottom.
You will see a possible lineup of José Reyes, Miguel Tejada, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Santana, Ricardo Nanita and Alejandro De Aza.
They also happen to have a scary relievers corps headlined by saves-machine Fernando Rodney, and a supporting cast that includes Pedro Strop, Santiago Casillas and Octavio Dotel. It's safe to say that a lead is safe after the seventh inning.
Their manager, former MLB catcher Tony Pena, was the 2003 AL Manager of the Year with the Kansas City Royals. He is currently an assistant coach with the NY Yankees and a five-time All-Star as a player, winning the Golden Glove four times.
Puerto Rico has made their living with a lineup of veterans, of which you might recognize Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios and Mike Aviles. On the pitching side, J.C. Romero might be a name you have heard before.
Their manager is former Miami Marlins manager, Edwin Rodriguez. He doesn't have the impressive resume that his Dominican counterpart has, playing briefly in the majors with the Yankees and Padres and only two years managing in the big leagues.
But that same guy you see with the poker face game after game is someone whose knowledge of the game is not to be underestimated. Among his assistant coaches are former MLB player standouts Carlos Delgado and Carlos Baerga, and others with some major league success as Jose Valentin, and former pitchers Jose Rosado and Ricky Bones.
But don't make the same mistake as everyone else. The Puerto Rican team is full of crafty veterans and their pitching has been playing a symphony directed by master director Yadier Molina, arguably the best catcher in baseball.
At least his former manager, Tony la Russa, says so.
Molina didn't play in the previous two matchups between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, so you can expect a different outcome and a pitching duel tonight.
It will be a great final, and the winner is certain to throw a huge party tonight, worthy of their Caribbean heritage.
Whoever wins is a win for Caribbean baseball and fans worldwide. If you like to see a game played with fundamentals, intensity, focus and emotion, you got it tonight.
World Baseball Classic 2013 | Championshp Game | AT&T Park | 8:00 p.m. ET
Projected Starting Lineups
|Dominican Republic||Puerto Rico|
|Jose Reyes (SS)||Angel Pagan (CF)|
|Miguel Tejada (3B)||Irving Falu (2B)|
|Robinson Cano (2B)||Carlos Beltran (DH)|
|Edwin Encarnación (1B)||Yadier Molina (C)|
|Hanley Ramirez (DH)||Mike Aviles (SS)|
|Nelson Cruz (RF)||Alex Rios (RF)|
|Carlos Santana (C)||Carlos Rivera (1B)|
|Ricardo Nanita (LF)||Andy Gonzalez (3B)|
|Alejandro De Aza (CF)||Jesus Feliciano (LF)|
|Samuel Dudeno (SP)||Giancarlo Alvarado (SP)|