SAN FRANCISCO -- After the Dominican team he assembled reached the World Baseball Classic finals by beating the Netherlands Monday night, Moises Alou kept repeating some variation on the phrase "after what happened in '09."
That first-round elimination salted Dominican pride, stinging at first, then flavoring the current roster. "After what happened in '09, there was a lot of guys that said, 'I want to be on the team, and they kept their word and they're here,'" Alou said. "Because of what happened, they wanted to give back to the country, and everybody came in shape to play."
That, he said, did not happen in the first two Classics, when Alou still played, before he stepped into his role as general manager. The team made it to the semifinals of the 2006 Classic, which was disappointing, but not sufficiently motivating, he said.
"I remember playing in the semifinals, and I remember myself I knew I wasn't in top shape," he said. "And everybody said we've got to come back in shape, and that didn't happen the following WBC. But this year, they took it seriously."
The 2009 team saw stars pull out after making initial commitments, much to the dismay of Alou's father, Felipe, the team manager.
This year, the Dominicans went to the Classic with a roster that contained seven players who have been major-league All-Stars and a total of 20 players who spent 2012 in the big leagues. Their general manager said he worried about dropouts as he prepared the final roster, because substitutions can be made only for injuries. The Yankees' Robinson Cano, now hitting .517 for the DR, calmed his worst fears.
"(He) called me before he went to spring training and said: 'I just wanted to let you know I'm ready and let's go get it,'" Alou said.
The Dutch team, by contrast, had only five players who played in MLB last year. Starting pitcher Diegomar Markwell, for example, spent 2012 with Neptunus Rotterdam, which may not be the best way to prep for confrontations with Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz or that Dominican Dorian Gray -- Miguel Tejada.
But Markwell, tutored by Hall of Famer and Dutch pitching coach Bert Blyleven, held them scoreless until the fifth inning, holding a 1-0 lead. If the Dominicans were haunted by thoughts of 2009, when two losses to the Netherlands did them in, they didn't let on after the game. Undefeated through this year's tournament, they know exactly who they are.
They'll talk about God looking out for them, and about a magical plantain that reliever Fernando Rodney carried with him every moment of the evening he wasn't playing. ("I saw on the Twitter that this was the War of the Platanos and the Gouda cheese, or whatever, from the Netherlands," Alou said.) Ultimately, though, they know this is all in their hands.
They scored four runs in the fifth, and honkbal had officially hit the wall, 4-1. The Dutch and their knighted manager, Sir Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens, bowed out as the first European team in the semis, although their roster had a decidedly Caribbean quality. Twelve of the 28 players came from the island of Curacao and two from Aruba. Meulens was reared in Curacao, by a Dutch father and Dominican mother.
Four years ago in Los Angeles, the WBC staged an all-Asia final between Japan and South Korea. This year, San Francisco becomes home to the first all-Caribbean title game, between Puerto Rico and the Dominican on Tuesday. The Bay Area has a huge Asian-American population, but there is something wonderfully sentimental about the Dominican and Puerto Rican teams meeting here.
Of the Giants' five living Hall of Famers, two came from the islands -- Orlando Cepeda from Puerto Rico and Juan Marichal from the DR.
The first Dominican ever to appear in an MLB game, Ozzie Virgil, did so with the New York incarnation of the franchise in 1956. Felipe Alou became the first Dominican to play regularly in the majors after joining the Giants in 1963, formed the only all-sibling outfield here with brothers Matty and Jesus, then returned to manage the team from 2003 to 2006. He threw out a ceremonial first pitch on Monday, alongside Meulens, who works full-time as the Giants' hitting coach. When the game ended, Dominican fans gathered to celebrate near a statue of Marichal.
Moises Alou played here, too, during his father's managerial career. As his WBC team undid the 2009 disappointment, Alou saw the lowest moment of his career nearly re-enacted, with a happier ending. Left fielder Moises Sierra tumbled into the box seats along the left-field line to catch a fly ball and end the Dutch first inning. A fan with an outreached glove missed snaring the ball and the opportunity to become the WBC's Steve Bartman.
"Hey, even the guy had glasses like Bartman," Alou said, all smiles.
The salt doesn't sting anymore. It has yielded a place in the final, a night of Caribbean baseball.
"It's spicy," Alou said, explaining the islands' approach to the game. "It's spicy baseball that we play down there."