MIAMI — To truly appreciate the significance of what Jose Bautista and Welington Castillo did Sunday afternoon at Marlins Park, a person had to be physically inside the shaking, screaming domed stadium, watching the spectacular event unfold.
Or be Dominican.
Only then could someone feel the palpable shift of emotion, to see almost certain heartbreak turn into renewed hope, thanks to Bautista’s right arm and the secure catcher’s mitt of Castillo. Those two combined to deny Colombia an historic walk-off win in the ninth inning of their World Baseball Classic game. And in the 11th, the Dominican Republic, boosted by the controversial new tiebreaker rule, attacked for seven runs in a 10-3 victory that lifted them to 11-0 dating to last year’s WBC.
The Dominican Republic (3-0) clinched the top spot in Pool C and advanced to the second round. Colombia fell to 1-2. The United States (2-1) also reached the second round with an 8-0 victory over Canada (0-3) on Sunday night.
Once this game reached the 11th, with runners placed at first and second, there was little doubt that the Dominican Republic would break loose. Its lineup is too dangerous to be held down for very long, and it was Castillo — the defensive savior — who snapped the tie with a two-run single to leftfield.
Just about everything before that, however, did not follow the expected script, particularly when upstart Colombia tied the score at 3 in the eighth on Jorge Alfaro’s homer off Fernando Rodney and got the winning run to third base with one out in the ninth.
To the mighty Dominican team and its flag-waving, horn-honking supporters, it was an unthinkable scenario that was made worse when Reynaldo Rodriguez slapped a fly ball to leftfield that was right on the fringe of far enough.
As soon as Bautista grabbed it, Oscar Mercado — inserted earlier as a pinch runner — bolted for the plate. The baseball and Mercado could be seen converging on Castillo simultaneously. It was that close.
“I felt pretty good about it,” Bautista said. “It wasn’t the strongest throw, because I was trying to make it an accurate one.”
Bautista’s aim was good enough. But Castillo, sensing that the ball might be losing the race, crept up the baseline and scooped it on the second short hop just as Mercado was attempting to squeeze around him to the left. In one motion, Castillo — his bare hand keeping the ball secure — pushed his glove into Mercado’s side and somehow held on.
“I think he tagged me,” Cas tillo said, smiling. “It’s a do-or-die play. Everything happened so fast, you can’t worry about too many things. A play like that, you gotta do it no matter what. If you don’t, we lose the game.”
As soon as plate umpire Tripp Gibson signaled that Mercado was out, many of the angry Colombia players swarmed around him, leading to one being ejected. Bautista said he was fearful that, based on the reaction, maybe Castillo dropped the ball. It was clear that he did not, and Colombia manager Luis Ureta later agreed that Mercado was out.
“All the credit goes to Welington,” Bautista said.
Despite the celebration, the Dominican Republic still had to win the game to avoid a potential tiebreaker Monday against Team USA. After Castillo’s pivotal hit in the 11th, Jean Segura ripped a bases-clearing double to finally break Colombia. Jeurys Familia, fresh off Saturday’s save, made his third appearance in four days and struck out two in a lower-pressure 11th. But after all that, the heroic effort by the Bautista-Castillo hookup is what they’ll be talking about in the D.R. for years to come.
Said Cruz, “It will be like a legend, you know?”