A world-class victory

Uehara impressive again as O's defeat Dominicans before festive crowd

March 05, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - No further proof is necessary that major league baseball is a global sport after yesterday's exhibition game between the Orioles and the Dominican Republic team that will compete in the World Baseball Classic.

Japanese right-hander Koji Uehara pitched an impressive three innings for the Orioles, validating their new commitment to international scouting, and a raucous group of fans wearing the colors of the Dominican team had Fort Lauderdale Stadium rocking to a Latin beat for the 2009 debut of legendary pitcher Pedro Martinez.

"I loved the atmosphere," Orioles designated hitter Luke Scott said. "It reminded me of winter ball, which is a great experience. Lots of passion, the fans get really into it. One of the best times I've ever had was in 2005 in Venezuela. It was fun; that's the best way to describe it. Baseball is at its purest when guys are out there having fun."

The Orioles beat the Dominican Republic, 6-1, in a game that doesn't count toward Grapefruit League statistics or standings. Ty Wigginton was the offensive star with two hits, including a tape-measure three-run home run off Cincinnati Reds rising star Johnny Cueto that soared over the left-field wall and landed halfway to third base on one of the back fields at the Orioles' spring complex.

In his second start this spring, Uehara allowed two hits and struck out two in three scoreless innings. In five scoreless innings this spring, he has surrendered three hits and one walk, hit a batter and struck out five. After the outing, the Orioles' first Japanese player bemoaned control problems despite throwing 23 of his 36 pitches for strikes.

But he said he was otherwise pleased with the results against a lineup that included stars Hanley Ramirez, David Ortiz and Miguel Tejada.

"I understand there are a lot of big-name players," Uehara said through his interpreter, Jiwon Bang. "To get that kind of results, I'm happy with that. I have experience pitching in international competition, and I love the opportunity against the big, huge hitters."

A pro-Dominican crowd, which spent part of the game banging on bongos, singing songs and raising Dominican flags, gave Ortiz a loud ovation when he came to bat for the first time. The buzz grew louder as the Boston Red Sox slugger took a violent swing at one of Ue-hara's pitches and sent a high drive that was caught by Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis in front of the warning track.

Ortiz anchored a Dominican lineup that did not - and might not - include New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, who instead flew to Vail, Colo., yesterday to be examined by Dr. Marc Philippon, a hip specialist at Steadman-Hawkins Clinic. Rodriguez has a cyst on his right hip that could keep him out of the World Baseball Classic.

Tejada, whose reluctance to move from shortstop to third base accelerated the Orioles' decision to trade him to the Houston Astros, played third in Rodriguez's absence. He had a tough day, going 1-for-4, hitting into two double plays and misplaying an infield pop-up and Markakis' first-inning ground ball that was a prelude to Wigginton's home run.

Martinez, who is a free agent and hoping to sign with a club after the World Baseball Classic, allowed two earned runs on three hits and a walk in two innings. His every move was cheered, and he even got a standing ovation after striking out Chris Gomez to end the fifth.

"It felt great," Martinez said. "I'm still a little bit off on the pitches and getting a feel for the game, but I felt great. For the first time out in a real, real game, it's really good. I will take it as a plus day."

So did the Orioles, who considered the festive afternoon a nice deviation from the rigors of their Grapefruit League schedule.

"It was kind of bizarre," Gomez said. "It was cloudy, windy, rainy. The music. The whole atmosphere was surreal. It was cool. Spring training gets monotonous, so I'm for anything to switch it up."

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

Opening game: Today, China vs. Japan, 4:30 a.m., ESPN2

TV: ESPN, ESPN2, MLB Network

Semifinals and final: Dodger Stadium, March 21-23

Defending champion: Japan is back to defend its title with outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, pitching ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, infielder Akinori Iwamura and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.

Top challengers

Dominican Republic: If Alex Rodriguez (hip cyst) plays at all, he's not a bad third baseman to have on the same side of the infield as Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes.

Venezuela: Would have helped to get Johan Santana and Carlos Zambrano onto the mound to join closer Francisco Rodriguez, but any team with Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez in the lineup is formidable.

Cuba: Made a surprising run to the championship game the first time out in 2006. Getting older, but second baseman Yulieski Gourriel (listed at 24) is still here.

United States: Most of the talk is again about who isn't here (Tim Lincecum, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter) instead of who is, but with Olympic manager Davey Johnson on the scene, there will be a different approach from the first time out.

Orioles in WBC: Mike Costanzo (Italy); Jeremy Guthrie (U.S.); Cesar Izturis (Venezuela); Melvin Mora (Venezuela)

Opening-round brackets

(top two advance)

Tokyo: China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan

Toronto: U.S., Canada, Italy, Venezuela

San Juan: Netherlands, Dominican Republic, Panama, Puerto Rico

Mexico City: South Africa, Cuba, Australia, Mexico

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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