Fernando Rodney debuted a new “rally plantain” at the World Baseball Classic Thursday.
Four years ago, Rodney carried around a real sample of the banana-shaped fruit – quite popular in the Dominican Republic – and it quickly became a lucky charm during the Dominican Republic’s run to the 2013 WBC title.
On Thursday night, Rodney unveiled a fake gold-plated plantain during pregame intros, and then the former Marlins reliever did his signature bow and arrow gesture with it, drawing a roar from the mostly Dominican crowd of 27,388 at Marlins Park.
A few hours later, Rodney fired another mythical arrow into the Miami night sky after he helped close out a 9-2 victory for the Dominican Republic over Canada in the first of its three WBC opening round games.
Rodney, the former Marlins’ reliever who turns 40 on March 18, struck out the only two batters he faced before Mets closer Jeurys Familia struck out former Marlins prospect Josh Naylor for the final out.
Banging their own plastic green plantain inflatable noise-makers and waving their flags, the Dominican fans partied throughout the evening as their team took the first step toward a potential WBC championship repeat.
“For a minute I thought I was playing at Estadio Quisqueya [in Santo Domingo],” said Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, who homered in the sixth and hit in the cleanup spot Thursday. “They gave us tremendous energy. You can’t compare what it’s like to play in front of a crowd like that and feel that positive energy from them.”
A capacity crowd is expected the next time the Dominican side takes the field Saturday night when they face the United States at 6:30 p.m. in a battle of two of the top contenders overall in the tournament. That game is sold out.
The Dominican Republic plans to give Marlins starting pitcher Edinson Volquez the start on Saturday against Team USA, which has not yet announced a starter.
Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer will start the United States’ first game of the tournament on Friday at 6 p.m. against Colombia with Royals’ starter Danny Duffy opening Sunday’s game against Canada.
The Dominican starting lineup that featured six All-Stars needed only two innings to break through on the scoreboard against former Marlins starter Ryan Dempster, who came out of retirement to pitch for Team Canada.
Dempster, 39, had not pitched since the 2013 World Series as a member of the Boston Red Sox. He lasted two innings, threw 49 pitches, and gave up four runs on seven hits. He struck out one and walked one.
“It’s not what I expected,” Dempster said. “I knew against that lineup, you’re not going to sit there breeze through them one, two, three every inning. The first inning was very Dempsteresque, I felt I’ve had a lot of those first innings over my career. I felt good out there.”
Since 2014, Dempster has served as both a studio color analyst for MLB Network, and has worked in the Chicago Cubs’ front office as an assistant to general manager Jed Hoyer and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
Dempster worked his way out of trouble during a 24-pitch first inning after allowing a double to another former Marlin Jose Reyes.
Dempster couldn’t contain the Dominican lineup in the second, however, as they scored four runs on six hits highlighted by a two-run home run off the bat of catcher Welington Castillo.
“I wish I would have made a couple of better pitches, obviously the home run,” Dempster said. “They’re a really good lineup. You have to give them the respect they deserve. They almost have an All-Star team out there. At the end of the day, I didn’t execute the pitches I could have done a better job on and maybe the results would have been a little bit better as far as keeping us in the game a little better. You live and you learn. The whole experience was amazing.”
Reyes singled and scored in the inning and Nelson Cruz started the frame by doubling to deep center field on the first pitch he saw from Dempster and later scored on a single by Gregory Polanco.
Canada, which failed to advance past the first round in the first three WBC tournaments, cut the deficit to 4-2 with a run in the third and another run in the fifth on a double by center fielder Dalton Pompey.
Bautista ended any chances of a comeback by Canada with a towering three-run home run off Kevin Chapman, a reliever for the Astros and graduate of Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale.
Bautista turned on a 93-mph fastball from Chapman, for a 415-foot blast over the left field bullpen that extended the Dominican Republic’s lead to 8-2.
“Because it’s a lineup that has a lot of potential cleanup hitters, it takes a lot of the pressure off me,” Bautista said. “I know we’re all here pulling the rope in the same direction.”
St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez started on the mound for the Dominican Republic and picked up the win after going four innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits and striking out three on 53 pitches. Per tournament rules, pitchers are limited to 65 pitches in the first round.
“From the start I thought of Carlos for this game because he’s a power pitcher and facing a mostly lefty lineup, I figured we needed an arm like his in this type of game,” Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena said.