SAN FRANCISCO – In what was an affair once dominated by Japan, for the first time in World Baseball Classic history two Caribbean nations will meet to decide who is the tournament's champion.
When the undefeated Dominican Republic plays Puerto Rico on Tuesday night in a rematch only three days after they last met in Miami, two island countries with years of baseball success will give the world another version of a Caribbean championship.
"Whoever wins the Classic is really the Caribbeans," Dominican manager Tony Peña said after his team's 4-1 win against the Netherlands on Monday. "It could be Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, but it will belong to the Caribbeans."
Tuesday's winner will earn the distinction of world champion for the first time in the three-event history of the WBC.
Fernando Rodney surprised his teammates in the middle of the game when he pulled out a lucky plantain, sent from a family member back home in the Dominican just in time for Monday's semifinal.
The quirky Tampa Bay closer sure found the perfect motivational prop.
Late lineup addition Moises Sierra hit a tying RBI double in the fifth and Jose Reyes added a go-ahead single two batters later as the spirited Dominicans reached the WBC final and avenged an early exit at the hands of the Dutch in the last Classic four years ago.
The banana will be around for another day.
"Keep it, why not?" winning pitcher Edinson Volquez said. "It's like we have this one mission as a team, winning and winning."
Edwin Encarnación had an RBI single as the undefeated Dominicans survived a rocky start from Volquez, who benefited from Sierra's catch over the left-field wall in foul territory to end a first-inning threat.
The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico will play for a third time this tournament after the Dominicans (7-0) won Saturday in Miami before each club flew West.
One will get to throw quite a party.
Puerto Rico eliminated two-time defending Classic champion Japan 3-1 on Sunday night. Rodney finished Monday's game for his sixth save as dozens of seagulls swirled right above the field.
"The platano said, 'If you keep me close to you, you're going to get the win,'" Rodney joked after briefly putting it on display during pregame introductions.
Players rushed out of the dugout as fans chanted "Dominicana! Dominicana!"
This time, the Dominicans didn't let the Netherlands interfere with their road to the WBC championship.
They were still fuming four years after the Netherlands beat them twice in the 2009 WBC's first round for a stunning early exit. They were a pair of one-run games played in San Juan, Puerto Rico, including an 11-inning victory in an elimination contest.
"We kept it in the past," Volquez said. "We're just focused on our game."
And Peña certainly didn't mind Rodney's spontaneous dugout contribution.
"In a game like this, you have to have a little bit of fun and find a way to loosen up," the skipper said. "I'm glad he did it."
Former Oakland and San Francisco shortstop Miguel Tejada earned a start at third base and singled twice and scored a run. He drew cheers from the Bay Area fans during pregame introductions.
Andruw Jones hit a two-out single in the fourth for the first Dutch hit against Volquez, who yielded Wladimir Balentien's first-inning RBI groundout before settling in to earn the win.
Carlos Santana hit a one-out double in the fifth and Sierra followed with an RBI double as the Dominicans tied the game at 1 and later chased Netherlands starter Diegomar Markwell.
The Dutch lefty, who came in at a 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his two previous WBC outings, didn't allow a runner past first base through four innings. But his pitch count quickly went up in a four-run fifth as the Dominicans tagged him for five hits, so that was it considering the WBC pitch limit is 95.
Tom Stuifbergen replaced Markwell with two outs in the fifth and threw a wild pitch on his first offering to Robinson Cano, allowing Reyes to score from third for an insurance run.
Cano — batting 15 for 29 (.517) this tournament with two home runs, six RBIs, five runs scored and two doubles — went 1 for 2 with two intentional walks.
The second baseman and Yankees star made a pretty stop on Roger Bernadina's sharp grounder in the sixth in which he lunged left then spun and threw to first.
Now, Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens will head back to the Arizona desert for his other gig: hitting coach of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. The Dutch-born Meulens' mother is Dominican, so he had fans on both sides for this one.
About half of the Dutch roster is from Holland and the others from his native island of Curacao. He warned his team that the Dominicans had all the big names and the major league experience, but not to let it affect the Dutch doing what got them this far: playing solid, fundamental baseball.
"I'm proud of our guys," Meulens said. "I thanked them for playing with a lot of heart."
This game drew only 27,527, compared to 33,363 a night earlier as Japan went down to the surprising Puerto Ricans.
While hardly as festive without the favored Japanese, some sections of fans stayed on their feet and danced to music and the beat of drums and horns. One man cheered "Let's go Giants!" in the top of the fourth inning.
Volquez, the Dominican right-hander, had a pair of walks and a wild pitch — with two mound visits by Santana, the catcher — through the first two batters of the game.
He threw nine balls among his first 11 pitches, but got out of it with minimal damage after allowing Balentien's run-scoring grounder. And the Dominican Republic's reliable bullpen did the rest.
Peña made a lineup switch after consulting with his coaches, going with Sierra in left field and in the No. 8 hole instead of the slumping Ricardo Nanita.
On a night countryman Felipe Alou threw out the ceremonial first pitch to get things started, the Dominicans got it done for their baseball-crazed homeland.
"Of course when you're representing your country and you're making your country proud, that's amazing. That's awesome," Volquez said. "It's not something that you can do every day."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.