HIGHLIGHTS: Molina’s Passion, Big Plays Lead Puerto Rico to 3-1

Sam Masterson (@sammasterson22)

SAN DIEGO (KMOX/AP) – Yadier Molina’s play in the 2017 World Baseball Classic is as colorful as Puerto Rico’s uniformed hair style. He led his team to a 3-1 win against the favored Dominican Republic in the WBC second round, Tuesday night.

It was a rematch of the 2013 WBC Championship, and Dominican Republic was on an 11-game WBC winning streak, dating back to the previous tournament. A statistic Molina knows first hand, becuase he has played in each of the four WBC’s, since 2006.

“The only way to play against the Dominican Republic is with passion and motivation,” said Molina, the St. Louis Cardinals’ catcher. “They are an incredible team.”

Molina, 34, is one of the oldest Puerto Rico players, but he is also clearly the tone setter.

Molina “brings so much, not only defensively but offensively,” Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He’s the heart of the team.”

His passion was on display from the first inning. The bases were loaded in a 0-0 game, when Molina put a tag on Dominican Jean Segura who was trying to score on a fly out to right.

Molina’s fist pump nearly flung his mask off his head:

Then minutes later, Molina was smiling on first base after driving in the game’s first run – with the smuggest grin of all-time. But who wouldn’t smile after getting a hit like that off your teammate, since Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez was the man who gave up the RBI single:

Who would have guessed we would be talking this much at Molina’s bat?

But here we are. The score was 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Molina drives the first pitch from Hector Neris over the left field fence. And the play is absolutely more satisfying to listen to with a Spanish-speaking broadcaster:

The jury is still deliberating on Molina’s hair, but it seems to be working for his team:

But this is the highlight baseball fans will be talking about. Two outs, bottom of the eighth and Molina finally shows off his cannon:

But probably better than the throw was the tag by Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez. The guy was staring directly at Molina and celebrating like the inning was over, before the ball was even in his glove.

Baez’s tagging ability has been public knowledge since last year’s World Series, but this one was unreal.

Puerto Rico’s win against Dominican Republic was the first game of the round robin pool that includes USA and Venezuela. The top two teams will advance from the group, to take on either Japan or Netherlands in a one-game semifinal.

The winner of those two games will face off in the 2017 WBC Championship on March 22, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

USA plays Venezuela Wednesday night at 8 p.m. CTE.

AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson contributed to this report.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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