By Larry Fine
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Dominican Republic capped off an unbeaten campaign by defeating Caribbean neighbors Puerto Rico 3-0 to win the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday.
The Dominicans made up for their first-round exit in the 2009 tournament by taking their record to 8-0 after the title game, five pitchers combining for a three-hit shutout on a rainy, chilly night at AT&T Park before a crowd of more than 35,000.
Closer Fernando Rodney struck out Luis Figueroa for the final out to spark a celebration on the mound which continued with the players parading a huge Dominican flag around the field.
Robinson Cano was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament after hitting .469 with two home runs, six runs batted in and six runs scored. The New York Yankees second baseman later fielded a phone call from the president of the Dominican Republic.
After Cano handed the phone off to Jose Reyes at the post-game news conference, he was asked how he felt about returning to spring training after experiencing the high of WBC triumph.
"Tonight we're going to celebrate. Tomorrow we're going to celebrate and Thursday we'll worry about spring training," Cano said with a laugh.
The Dominicans wasted no time getting on the scoreboard with a two-run double by Edwin Encarnacion off losing pitcher Giancarlo Alvarado giving them a 2-0 lead in the first inning before they added another run in the fifth on Erick Aybar's double.
Starter Samuel Deduno and four relievers stifled the Puerto Rican lineup in a decisive victory that made the Dominicans champions of baseball's top international tournament.
Rain started falling at the start of the fourth and had picked up intensity by the bottom half of the inning, sending some fans to seek shelter while others donned ponchos and began cracking open umbrellas.
Footing became a problem for the players on the diamond during the middle innings with the grounds crew called out to repair the pitcher's mound and home plate area.
The rain lightened up later in the game and salsa music continued to blare from the bandstand beyond the bleachers, punctuated by air horns and drums played by the fans themselves.
By then, the Dominicans were in command.
Jose Reyes led off the game for them by cracking a long double off the brick wall in right and moving up on a sacrifice bunt by Erick Aybar. After an intentional walk to Cano, Encarnacion doubled to right-center scoring both baserunners.
They added some cushion in the fifth with help from a fielding gaffe by Puerto Rican second baseman Irving Falu.
After an infield single by Alejandro De Aza, Reyes grounded to Falu, who stood with the ball as De Aza stopped in the middle of the baseline.
Instead of going toward him to tag him out, Falu threw to first base in hopes of getting a double play, but De Aza made it safely to second and scored on a double by Aybar to make it 3-0.
Reliever Pedro Strop squelched a potential Puerto Rican rally in the seventh after a lead-off single by Mike Aviles and a walk to Alex Rios issued by Octavio Dotel.
Strop struck out Carlos Rivera and Andy Gonzalez and retired Jesus Feliciano on a twisting catch of a foul pop by third baseman Miguel Tejada to end the threat.
"Obviously, we wanted to win," said Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez. "We have to take our hats off to the Dominican Republic team, which showed a stellar performance."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)