(Reuters) – Nelson Cruz smashed a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift Dominican Republic to a 7-5 victory over the United States in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in Miami on Saturday.
Cruz sent the pro-Dominican crowd of more than 37,000 at Marlins Park into a frenzy when he sent a line drive off left-hander Andrew Miller rocketing into the bleachers to give the Dominicans their first lead of the game.
Center fielder Starling Marte added a solo homer later in the inning to pad the margin as the reigning champions fought back from a 5-0 deficit in the sixth inning.
New York Mets closer Jeurys Familia pitched a clean ninth to seal the victory and put the Dominicans (2-0) top of Pool C ahead of the United States (1-1), Colombia (1-1) and Canada (0-2).
The United States plays Canada on Sunday, with a place in the next round at stake.
Cruz said he was delighted to give the Dominican fans a moment to remember with his home run, in front of the largest crowd at the home of Major League Baseball’s Marlins.
“It was crazy, it was loud, the fans they never give up. They deserve it,” the Seattle Mariners player said in an interview.
“We (Dominicans) love baseball. We breathe baseball 24/7. We have so much talent, it’s unbelievable. It was nice to get it done today.”
Earlier on Saturday, Colombia recorded their first WBC win, beating Canada 4-1 in Miami.
Atlanta Braves pitcher Julio Teheran was dominant for five innings for Colombia, retiring the final 13 batters he faced.
Canada struck first, scoring their only run in the first inning, but they did not get another hit until the seventh and by then Colombia were ahead 3-1.
In Pool D, Francisco Lindor had three RBIs as Puerto Rico beat Mexico 9-4.
Javier Baez hit a three-run home run in the ninth inning to give Puerto Rico some insurance in Jalisco, Mexico.
Puerto Rico (2-0) heads the pool ahead of Venezuela (1-1) and Italy (1-1), with Mexico (0-2) eliminated.
Venezuela pushed across a run in the 10th to edge Italy 11-10, with Martin Prado collecting five hits, including the game-winning RBI double.
Venezuela trailed 5-0 in the fifth before rallying.
Catcher Salvador Perez drilled a go-ahead homer with one out in the ninth inning but was forced to leave the game when Drew Butera collided with him on a play at the plate after Italy (1-1) tied the score in the ninth.
Venezuela closer Francisco Rodriguez was also injured on the play.
In Tokyo, Israel beat Cuba 4-1 in the opening game of Pool E.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Gene Cherry; Editing by Peter Rutherford)