MIAMI _ Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez took one look at the United States lineup and noticed a very familiar name near the bottom.
Giancarlo Stanton, one of baseball’s premier power hitters, was relegated to the eighth spot by United States manager Joe Torre for Tuesday’s World Baseball Classic game.
“When you have a lineup where you have Giancarlo Stanton hitting eighth, that means we’re going to have pretty tough task ahead of us,” Rodriguez, who managed Stanton for a year in Miami, said before the game.
Rodriguez’s fears were realized when the United States chipped away before breaking open the game in the eighth inning to advance with a 7-1 victory before a festive crowd of 32,872 at Marlins Park.
David Wright drove in five runs and sealed the game with a three-run double in the eighth.
Wright has knocked in 10 runs in the WBC. He is being labeled “Captain America.”
“Hitting in this lineup is ridiculous,” Wright said.
The victory sets up a matchup featuring two of the world’s powers on Thursday when the US faces the Dominican Republic. The winner secures a spot in the WBC championship round in San Francisco. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will face the Dominican Republic’s Samuel Deduno.
The Dominican Republic rallied from a 4-0 first inning deficit to defeat Italy, 5-4, in Tuesday’s early game.
Rodriguez knows Stanton better than anyone having managed him for two full seasons. Perhaps that is why he called for an intentional walk when the Marlins slugger came to bat in the seventh inning with first base open and the US leading 4-0.
Stanton was the only US player with two hits at the time. He finished 2-for-3. Stanton entered the game hitless in seven WBC at bats and wasn’t in the lineup Sunday for the United States’ crucial victory over Canada in the final game of the opening round.
“It’s only been two games,” Stanton said about his slow start. “You can say I was pressing a little bit, whatever. I had good at bats and put good swings on the ball. It wasn’t a big deal. It was nice to get it for sure, though.”
Stanton also contributed defensively when he saved a run in the fourth by making a running catch in right field on a long fly hit by Mike Aviles with Carlos Beltran on third. Stanton ran a long way in the spacious park before reaching up and making the backhanded catch not far from the fence.
“I know that gap better than anybody,” Stanton said. “You can’t give up on a ball that’s smoked out there.”
The US appeared to have a whopping advantage in the pitching matchup with Gio Gonzalez, the third place finisher in the NL Cy Young award voting last season, facing Mario Santiago, who was released by the Royals late in 2011 following seven minor league seasons.
The US had scored single runs every other inning starting in the first before the eighth inning explosion. Joe Mauer drove in the first run with a double, Wright picked up his first two RBI in the third and fifth with a fielder’s choice and single and Adam Jones plated a run in the seventh.
“We’ve been leaving quite a few runners on base,” Mauer said. “When David hit that three run double we finally felt comfortable.”
Gonzalez, the winning pitcher, lasted five innings, throwing 69 pitches (the limit for the second round is 80) and allowing three hits and striking out five.
Torre rolled out five relievers, including Marlins closer Steve Cishek, to close out the game. Cishek hit his only batter, pinch hitter Jesus Feliciano, who then scored on an Angel Pagan ground out.
The Dominican Republic scored three runs in the seventh to overtake Italy. Former Marlins All-Star Hanley Ramirez tied the game with a sacrifice fly and Nelson Cruz drove in the winning run with single, sending the partisan Dominican Republic crowd into a wild celebration.
“When we got close they knew, they were starting to feel (it),” Dominican manager Tony Pena said. “They kept talking in the dugout, hold it right there, we’re going to come back and win the game. It’s a very emotional team.”
Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano hit solo home runs. Cano had three hits and is hitting .750 in the WBC.
Italy will meet Puerto Rico today at 7 p.m. with the loser being eliminated.
Defending WBC champions Japan won its second round group with a 10-6 victory Tuesday over the Netherlands in Tokyo. Both nations already had clinched berths in the semifinals at San Francisco on March 17-18. Japan will play the second-place team from the Miami group. The Netherlands will meet the group winner.
Noteworthy: Former Marlins closer Heath Bell was the lone player booed during pregame introductions. Bell did not pitch Tuesday.