Volquez forgets past, finds redemption in DR win
Right-hander overcomes shaky first to settle in for strong five innings
SAN FRANCISCO -- For Edinson Volquez, this was much more than sweet revenge.
"It's the best feeling in the world," Volquez said. "We're making a lot of people back home proud. That's amazing. It's not something you can do every day. It's like we have this one mission: just winning, winning as a team."
After a rocky start, Volquez settled in on Monday night and gave the Dominican Republic exactly what it needed: five strong innings against the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic semifinals of the Championship Round.
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A 4-1 victory in front of 27,527 at AT&T Park sent the red, white and blue of the Dominican Republic on to face the red, white and blue of Puerto Rico in Tuesday night's winner-take-all championship game at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
It's sure to have all the flavor and passion of the Caribbean Series.
"We saw a lot of flags in the stands tonight -- and it should be pretty crazy [Tuesday] night," Volquez said, having notched his first Classic win with backing from a dominant bullpen anchored by Fernando Rodney. "The way we're playing, the confidence in the Dominican is crazy.
"Our team has a lot of confidence, but we know they've got a pretty good team, too. We're friends with those guys. But it's time to win."
Volquez, the Padres' muscular right-hander, surrendered a first-inning run after walking the first two hitters he faced. The third out of the inning came on a sensational catch by left fielder Moises Sierra, reaching above the first row in foul territory to snatch Andruw Jones' fly ball.
"That was big time, awesome," Volquez said. "He made a great catch jumping in the stands. He's really aggressive. That helped me a lot."
After yielding a run without giving up a hit, Volquez was rock solid the rest of the way, limiting the Netherlands to a pair of singles while striking out five hitters. Jones' two-out single in the fourth was the first hit allowed by Volquez.
"It was a bad start," Volquez said, admitting he was a little too amped up, "but I was able to shut it down and make pitches the last four innings."
Volquez turned it over to the deep bullpen after the Dominican Republic rallied with four runs to seize control in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Overcoming ragged starts is nothing new to Volquez, the 29-year-old right-hander who was 11-11 for the Padres in 2012 in 32 outings.
After pitching one perfect inning in the Classic opener against Venezuela in Puerto Rico, Volquez was shut down by a rain delay. Next time out, in the second round in Miami, he walked the first three men he faced, giving up four first-inning runs. Volquez found his command and shut down Italy into the fifth inning, and his team rallied to win, 5-4.
In a 2009 start against the Netherlands, once again opening the Classic for his country, Volquez allowed three unearned first-inning runs in a 3-2 loss. Three days later, the Dominican powerhouse fell again to the Netherlands and was a first-round knockout victim.
"I remember that first game in 2009," Volquez said, "but we didn't think too much about that. That was in the past. I really wanted to pitch well and win this one after what happened in Miami."
When a power pitcher such as Volquez is high in the strike zone early in a game, it usually means he's rushing and overthrowing with an overload of adrenaline.
Volquez walked dangerous Andrelton Simmons leading off the game on four pitches. In his Classic debut, the Rangers' Jurickson Profar -- MLB.com's top prospect -- also took a free pass.
Taking a few deep breaths, Volquez found the right stuff and retired Roger Bernadina on a tapper back to the mound, the runners advancing. With the infield back, Wladimir Balentien's routine groundout to shortstop Jose Reyes brought Simmons home and sent Profar to third. He was left there when Sierra, a late replacement for ailing Ricardo Nanita, showed the athleticism that intrigues the Blue Jays by taking down Jones' pop fly.
"I just had to get it under control," Volquez said, "and I was able to do that."
There are few teams as loose as the Dominican outfit, but it will be serious business on Tuesday night when the World Baseball Classic gives us a new version of the Caribbean Series.
Moises Alou, the Dominican Republic general manager, called it "spicy baseball."
"We don't try to make history," Volquez said. "We just want to win -- any way we can."
When it's over, he will return to the Padres' camp and lift the spirits of Padres manager Bud Black, who has been experiencing uncommon misfortune with the health of his pitching staff.
Volquez was the Padres' Opening Day starter in 2012 at Petco Park against the Dodgers. He came to San Diego in the five-player swap that sent staff ace Mat Latos to Cincinnati. It wasn't the first time Volquez had been dealt for a high-profile talent. After the 2007 season, he was shipped to the Reds by the Rangers in exchange for Josh Hamilton.
Having gathered himself to give the Dominican Republic exactly what it needed, Volquez couldn't stop beaming on Monday night. Now he gets to sit back and watch the fireworks display.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.