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I have seen more than 500 MLB baseball games live, between spring training, the regular season, and the playoffs (including the Sox winning the World Series in game four against Cards in 2004).

But this past Saturday night in Marlins’ Park was different than all of those 500.

The game itself wasn’t different. In fact, it was between two teams each chocked full of MLB stars. The rules were (largely) the same, and the play was definitely at the major league level.

It was the 2017 World Baseball Classic with the USA vs Dominican Republic in game four of the first round of the tournament. The stadium was sold out. In fact, it was the largest ball crowd ever to attend a game in Marlins’ Park – 37,446.

As we drove near the stadium, we could hear roars coming from inside the park, and the game was still a half hour from beginning. People were lined up around the stadium just to get in.

So what was so different about this game?

The crowd.

I’ve always thought that the fans at a baseball game are every bit as important as the teams playing. Players come and go (more frequently now than when I was a kid), but for the most part, the fans remain and remain loyal (tho Dodger and Giant fans might disagree). Sometimes referred to as the Tenth Man, I think the fans are what makes baseball special.

And in Saturday night’s game, it was definitely the crowd that led the Dominicans to their victory over the USA.

We got to our seats as the first USA batter was up, and you would have thought we were in the 9th inning of a tie game. Every pitch led to the crowd rising, clapping, screaming, waving USA or DR flags and banners. And that was before the first hitter even got out of the batter’s box.

Behind us were a group with a banner largely and loudly proclaiming that “This Was the Real World Series.” And while the Dominicans were clearly a majority in the crowd, there were plenty of USA fans with their flags and paraphernalia.

When the USA scored and scored again and went ahead 5-0, the crowd settled down a bit, but the noise was still louder than what I had heard at the KC Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium record decibel level a year or two ago, with only half as many in the crowd.

Then the tide began to turn, one run at a time for a couple of innings as the DR closed the score to 3-5. The decibel level increased. Then, in the bottom of the 8th with two men on base, DR’s Nelson Cruz (43 HR in 2016) batting against the USA’s Andrew Miller (10-1 with an ERA of 1.45 and WHIP of 0.686, the MLB’s best in 2016) hit a HR that just stayed fair and put the DR ahead 6-5.

The stadium went wild.

(See my shaky video of the Cruz’s HR & crowd reaction)

When the next DR batter, Starling Marte, also hit a HR off of Miller (has Miller ever given up two HRs in a game or back to back ones?), the DR fans were already standing and did so for the remainder of the game.

Final score: DR over the USA 7-5.

Forget it Arrowhead fans. You’ll never equal the noise Saturday night from Marlins’ Park (where the fans didn’t have to be told to make noise).

I’ve never been to a South or Latin American (or European) soccer game with 100,000 fans, but I think I’m beginning to understand what that must be like.

Never in my 65 years of attending MLB games (first went at the age of about eight to Fenway), have I been part of such an animated and exuberant crowd.

While I was clearly, and vocally, rooting for the USA, I was delighted to see so many fans, jumping up and down, screaming, cheering, and filled with joy.

Euphoric doesn’t adequately describe the fans that streamed out of the park at the end of the almost four hour game. Even the USA fans seems exhilarated, if also disappointed.

Baseball at its best, and the fans knew they were part of a game they’d never forget.

As of this writing, the DR remains undefeated in the 2017 WBC (they won the last championship when the WBC was played in 2013 and likely will do so again this time if Saturday’s game is any indication).

Credit their fans.

The DR team could not and will not let their fans down.

PS – David Ortiz was seen Sunday night in the DR’s dugout dressed in a DR baseball uniform as they defeated Columbia 7-3 to move on to the next round.  Could we possibly see him at bat again before the end of This Real World Series?

PPS – More from my recent 2017 Spring Training trip coming in a future post.

PPPS – Don’t forget to get your predictions in for the 2017 MillersTime Baseball Contests. Deadline approaching.