SAN FRANCISCO -- When the World Baseball Classic was in its early stages a couple of weeks ago, Tony Pena made a comment indicating he didn't have the "ideal" team representing the Dominican Republic in this tournament.
That wasn't a slam on the roster as much as it was a compliment to the gobs of baseball talent that is produced every year in Pena's native country. Stacked as his team is, the Dominican manager felt the star power could be even stronger.
Never mind that. Pena had all of the firepower he needed Monday night at AT&T Park, thanks to one big inning by the club's best-known players. A breakout fifth frame led to a 4-1 win over the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the semifinals, sending the Dominicans to the championship game Tuesday against Puerto Rico at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
If the Dominican Republic wins that game, it'll be the first time in World Baseball Classic history a team runs the table. The Dominicans are 7-0 entering the final game, a new mark for consecutive wins in the Classic.
Perfection, presumably, would be "ideal."
"I feel really proud of them," Pena said. "Because they were here today, they went out there and they gave everything for our country. If you ask me if this is the ideal group, I would say yes. I would say this is the ideal group. Because they're the ones who are here today."
It took the Dominican Republic a few innings to get on the scoreboard against the upstart Dutch, but a four-run rally in the fifth pushed the favorites into the lead.
The Dominicans finally got to Dutch starter Diegomar Markwell with back-to-back doubles with one out in the fifth, getting on the scoreboard when Carlos Santana came around on Moises Sierra's shot down the left-field line.
Jose Reyes followed one out later with a single to drive home Sierra, and the Dominican team had its first lead of the night. After moving to third on a Miguel Tejada single, Reyes scored the third run of the inning on a wild pitch by reliever Tom Stuifbergen. And Tejada scored on an Edwin Encarnacion single, touching home before Robinson Cano was thrown out at third base for the final out.
A raucous dugout, fueled by a large Dominican-friendly fanbase among the 27,527 in the stands, greeted the players with jubilation as they came off the field.
Big inning. Big names. Big win.
"This has been one of my greatest experiences," said Sierra, whose leap into the stands to nab an Andruw Jones long fly ball created a buzz in the first inning. "To be able to represent my country has been the best thing that's happened to me."
A look at the overall performances by the team's greatest stars suggests their undefeated record this month isn't all that surprising. Cano is hitting .517 (15-for-29) with four doubles, two home runs and six RBIs in the World Baseball Classic. Reyes has nine hits so far.
"They put some great at-bats on us today," Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. "We fouled a bunch of pitches off. Those great hitters, that's why they come up. They rise to the top when it comes to playing big games like this. We just came up a little bit short."
Cano has been touted as the vocal leader of the Dominican club and a source of encouragement for a strong offense that entered Monday's game with the highest batting average of the three teams remaining in the Classic.
Having won two MVP Awards already in the first two rounds of the tournament, Cano could be on his way to the trifecta. Even if he doesn't win it, his manager has seen enough to justifiably gush about the Yankees second baseman.
"He's just stepped forward and tried to keep everybody the right way," Pena said. "Like today -- 'Hey, guys, we swing at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. Come on. Let's concentrate a little bit more, let's take the at bat, let's make him work, and you will get a pitch to hit.'
"That means a lot, because now he tried to pass the word to the whole ballclub to be disciplined at the home plate. And it worked. Little things like this are the things that are going to make him a good leader on any ballclub in the future."
But for now, there's only one game in the immediate future, and that's on Tuesday against a strong Puerto Rico club. It'll be an all-Caribbean series, much to Pena's delight. Now, he just needs the "right" team to win it.
"That's been one of our goals, to respect our adversaries and to get prepared mentally and physically in order to play a good ballgame," he said. "Now, tomorrow, the Baseball Classic will be decided. We'll see who wins there."