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SAN DIEGO (AP) — With 34-year-old Yadier Molina leading the way, Puerto Rico had a ball in beating defending World Baseball Classic champion the Dominican Republic on Tuesday night.
Molina homered, hit an RBI single and celebrated big plays just as hard as younger teammates as the exuberant Puerto Ricans won 3-1 in the second round to snap the Dominican Republic's 11-game WBC winning streak.
It was a rematch of the 2013 WBC title game, which the Dominicans won 3-0 at San Francisco's AT&T Park.
The small but peppy crowd at Petco Park chanted, clapped, waved flags and banged cowbells throughout the game.
The Puerto Ricans responded with the joy of Little Leaguers, from the first inning until the final out.
"The only way to play against the Dominican Republic is with passion and motivation," said Molina, the St. Louis Cardinals' star catcher. "They are an incredible team."
After right fielder Eddie Rosario threw out Jean Segura at the plate with a one-hopper to Molina to end the top of the first, pitcher Orlando Roman jumped around while Molina punched the air in celebration. Teammates converged on Rosario and chest-bumped him so hard he fell down.
While that play set the tone, the Puerto Ricans had an even more incredible play to end the eighth, when Molina threw out Nelson Cruz trying to steal second. Second baseman Javier Baez was smiling and pointing his right index finger at Molina even as he caught the throw and put down a no-look tag. Molina whipped off his mask and thrust it in the air and the infielders practically skipped off the field. Baez threw the ball all the way into the third deck as he ran off the field.
Edwin Diaz struck out Segura to earn the save and an emotional hug from Molina. One of the Puerto Rico players tossed the rosin bag in the air.
"Facing a team like the Dominican Republic, the motivation was there for us," manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "We were waiting four years for this, and we played well offensively, defensively and on the mound."
The Puerto Ricans even whipped the ball around the infield with purpose after each strikeout.
"We have lots of energy, youth. They were waiting for this moment. This was a moment to celebrate," Rodriguez said.
Molina "brings so much, not only defensively but offensively," the manager said. "He's the heart of the team."
The Dominican Republic noticed the Puerto Ricans' enthusiasm.
"They were playing really hard against this incredible Dominican team," manager Tony Pena said. "And they played with great energy. The first inning was a determining factor. Now had we gained two runs, perhaps it would have been a different thing."
The Puerto Ricans aren't trying to show up anybody.
"This is what the WBC is all about," Rodriguez said. "There are a lot of Dominican fans, a lot of Puerto Rico fans. There is a lot of emotion and we played with the emotion. We let the other team celebrate and then we can celebrate because you are playing for your country. We're not trying to embarrass anybody. They are just having fun."
The Puerto Ricans won Pool D in Jalisco, Mexico.
Cruz homered for the Dominicans, who won Pool C in Miami before large, boisterous crowds.
Pena was ejected after arguing a strike call in the eighth. He ran out and got into umpire Will Little's face, and then slipped and fell to the ground.
Pena declined to comment on the umpiring, saying: "I never fight. I never discuss with any of the umpires, but it's enough."
Molina hit a broken-bat bloop single off Cardinals teammate Carlos Martinez (0-1) with two outs in the first to bring in Francisco Lindor.
Molina lined a home run to left field on Hector Neris' first pitch of the sixth to give Puerto Rico a 3-1 lead.
With the score tied at 1, Baez beat out an infield single with one out in the fourth and took second on a throwing error by third baseman Adrian Beltre. Rosario followed with a double to right-center that bounced into the stands and was caught by the same fan who caught Cruz's homer in the second.
Cruz connected against Roman leading off the second, with the fan catching the ball right at the top of the wall. The homer was reviewed and the umpires decided there was no fan interference.
The Dominicans loaded the bases with no outs in the first against Roman but failed to score. Jose Bautista struck out on a checked swing and Carlos Santana flied to Rosario, who threw out Segura at home.
With runners on first and second and one out in the third, Carlos Santana of the Dominican Republic hit a long, loud fly ball to left that Angel Pagan tracked down in front of the wall.
Hector Santiago (1-0) pitched 2 2/3 innings for the win.
Lindor said he grew up watching Molina and other teammates on TV.
"I'm old," Molina joked. "And now we have some good young talent."
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