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US, Dominicans to play for semis berth

MIAMI (AFP) –

David Wright blasts a three-run double against Puerto Rico on March 12, 2013

David Wright blasts a three-run double against Puerto Rico on March 12, 2013. He drove in five runs to power the US team over Puerto Rico 7-1.

The star-studded United States and Dominican Republic lineups advanced to a Thursday showdown for a semi-final berth in the World Baseball Classic with second-round triumphs.

David Wright blasted a three-run double and drove in five runs to power the US team over Puerto Rico 7-1 while Robinson Cano homered and scored the winning run as the Dominicans rallied to edge Italy 5-4.

Wright, who has knocked in a Classic-best 10 runs so far, expects the Dominicans to be the toughest squad the US has yet faced, with many of them familiar rivals from years as rivals and teammates in Major League Baseball.

“They have been playing great baseball,” Wright said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”

Both teams have something to prove in this event. The powerhouse Dominicans were ousted in the 2009 first round while the Americans have never reached the Classic final, falling in the second round in 2006 and in the 2009 semi-finals.

Steve Cishek of the United States pitches during a World Baseball Classic game against Puerto Rico on March 12, 2013

Steve Cishek of the United States pitches during a World Baseball Classic game against Puerto Rico on March 12, 2013. The US play Dominican Republic next.

Before the Americans and Dominicans meet Thursday in the double-elimination round, Italy will play Puerto Rico on Wednesday with that loser eliminated and the winner facing the US-Dominican loser Friday for the last semi-final berth.

Two-time defending champion Japan and the upstart Netherlands, with plenty of talent from the Dutch Antilles, have already qualified for the March 18-19 semi-finals in San Francisco from the second-round group in Tokyo.

In the US rout, Joe Mauer doubled in a run in the first inning and the Americans took a 2-0 lead in the third inning when Wright grounded into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded that brought home Brandon Phillips.

Third baseman Wright singled in the fifth to drive in another run, teammate Adam Jones singled in a run in the seventh and Puerto Rico’s Angel Pagan drove in the visitors’ only run on a ground out in the eighth inning.

But the Americans, who stranded 12 base runners, broke open the game in the eighth when Wright smacked his three-run double just past the outstretched glove of fast-running outfielder Pagan.

“It seems like every at bat I am hitting with runners in scoring position,” said Wright, who bats fifth in the US lineup. “It’s not me. It’s them.”

The Dominican Republic celebrate the winning run in the World Baseball Classic against Italy on March 12, 2013

The Dominican Republic celebrate the winning run in the World Baseball Classic second-round game against Italy on March 12, 2013 in Miami. Robinson Cano homered and scored the winning run as the Dominicans rallied to edge Italy 5-4.

US starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez struck out five batters and allowed only three hits in five scoreless innings to collect the victory.

In the Dominicans’ triumph, Italy took a 4-0 lead in the first inning, a surge that started when Dominican right-handed pitcher Edinson Volquez walked the first three Italian batters and Alex Liddi hit a run-scoring sacrifice fly.

Chris Colabello, a 29-year-old slugger who is trying to earn a spot with the Minnesota Twins this season, followed with a three-run homer.

Jose Reyes answered with a solo homer to right field in the third inning and Cano smashed a solo homer in the sixth to pull the Dominicans within 4-2.

Cano reached first on an error by Italy shortstop Anthony Granato in the seventh to load the bases. Italy southpaw reliever Luca Panerati then walked Edwin Encarnacion on four pitches to hand the Dominicans a third run.

Hanley Ramirez followed with a sacrifice fly to bring home the tying run and Nelson Cruz followed with a single to right to score Cano from third base with the deciding run.

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