It had never been that full.
And it certainly never felt as electric during a baseball game in the five-year existence of Marlins Park.
And on Saturday night, the majority of the ballpark-record crowd of 37,446 danced, sang and cheered the Dominican Republic as it dramatically rallied to beat the United States 7-5 to put itself a victory away from advancing to the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
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Hialeah-born local high school star Manny Machado woke up the Dominican bats in the sixth with a towering solo home run to left.
That began a rally from a five-run deficit that evaporated when Nelson Cruz crushed a pitch from former Marlin Andrew Miller and sent it just inside the left-field foul pole for a three-run homer in the eighth.
"The crowd kept us in the game the whole time," Machado said. "You can’t put into words everything that happened today. It was unbelievable to watch."
Starling Marte added a solo home run he deposited into the right-field bullpen for good measure, and the Dominicans’ party reached a fever pitch.
Mets closer Jeurys Familia put the finishing touches on the victory with a perfect ninth and did an imitation of teammate Fernando Rodney’s arrow shot on the mound as his teammates poured on to the field to celebrate.
It all started with Machado.
The Baltimore Orioles’ All-Star and Brito Miami Private School graduate shouted “Vamos!” which means, “Let’s Go” in Spanish, to the Dominican dugout as he trotted around first base following his majestic, 435-foot solo homer.
"No doubt after Manny hit it the crowd and we as players got pumped up," Cruz said. "That broke the ice and it’s what we needed to get it going."
The Dominican Republic (2-0 in the opening round) extended its winning streak in the event to 10 games dating to its triumph in 2013. The Dominicans can clinch a berth in the second round, which will be played Tuesday through Thursday in San Diego, if they beat Colombia (1-1) at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in their final opening-round game.
Should they lose, they can still clinch a spot outright if the United States (1-1) loses its game at 7 p.m. against Canada (0-2). If the Dominican Republic loses to Colombia and the U.S. wins, a three-team tiebreaker based on runs allowed divided by innings played would decide the top spot in Pool C and the remaining two teams would play a decisive game for the runner-up spot at 6 p.m. Monday.
The United States can clinch a berth in the second round outright if it beats Canada and the Dominican Republic beats Colombia.
Marcus Stroman gave the U.S. the strong start it was looking for by throwing 4 2/3 shutout innings and allowing only three singles and no walks while striking out four.
His last hit allowed — a single in the bottom of the fifth by Marte — ended his night after 64 pitches. Tanner Roark initially avoided trouble for the U.S. by getting Welington Castillo to pop up to right to end the inning.
But the Roark and the U.S. bullpen faltered from that point on.
“It’s a bigger loss because we don’t have another 161 games to make up for it,” Miller said. “I feel terrible. I want to go out there and pitch tomorrow. Our guys played well and I feel like we had control of the game the entire time. I didn’t do my job.”
The Marlins’ Christian Yelich hit a pair of doubles and Miami teammate Giancarlo Stanton had another run-scoring hit to help the U.S. build its five-run lead. But the Americans couldn’t muster a hit after the sixth inning.
Following Machado’s blast, the Dominicans chipped away a little more when Carlos Santana singled to score Robinson Cano and cut the lead to 5-2.
David Robertson relieved Roark after a leadoff double in the seventh by Marte. He then gave up a double to Castillo that pulled the D.R. within 5-3.
U.S. manager Jim Leyland called upon Miller in the eighth, hoping the Cleveland Indians closer could stave off the rally.
But after Miller hit Jose Bautista with a pitch and Santana reached on a fielder’s choice where Bautista made it to second safely, Cruz delivered the knockout blow.
"I think this is one of the top moments in my career," Cruz said. "You play on different teams and move to different places. But here you play for your country. We played for the country that we love and we won it for them."