TEMPE, Ariz. -- Maybe it was because they were humiliated in the first round last time, or because they all come from the same place, or a combination of both. Whatever the reason, Angels shortstop Erick Aybar and first-base coach Alfredo Griffin experienced an uncommon, team-wide unity while suiting up for the Dominican Republic during its championship run in the World Baseball Classic.
"It was everybody, united, since we got to the first game in Florida [for exhibitions]," said Aybar, who finished his first Classic 7-for-21 with one very big hit. "It was everybody together, talking, hanging out together. There were no cliques. It was just one big group that got along very well."
On the very first flight, from the exhibition games in Tampa, Fla., to San Juan, Puerto Rico, home of first-round play in Pool C, the Dominicans were as one. On that charter, Giants reliever Santiago Casilla huddled up the entire team in the back of the plane to read scripture, starting a trend that had him doing that for all 24 other players throughout the tournament and perhaps indirectly setting the tone for an eventual 8-0 run.
"That's the first time I've ever seen that happen, that all the guys accept one player to lead them in prayer the entire time," Griffin, who has served as a coach in all three Classic events, said in Spanish.
"Twenty-five players became one. Amazing."
That was most evident, at least publicly, during the boisterous celebration the Dominicans staged in the later stages of their 3-1 victory over Team USA at Marlins Park on March 14. The jubilance was sparked mainly by Aybar, who notched the pinch-hit, game-winning single in the top of the ninth against Craig Kimbrel.
"[Manager] Tony Pena told me, 'Get ready, because you could get a good opportunity here,'" Aybar said in Spanish. "And it came."
The magnitude of what the Dominicans were doing didn't hit them until they were deep in a champagne-soaked celebration in their clubhouse at AT&T Park, moments after beating Puerto Rico in the final, when the television came on. It was a live shot at Estadio Quisqueya, filled to the brim with locals celebrating after watching the game on the big screen.
"Nobody slept that day," Griffin said. "Since the first Classic, the fans have always been there supporting the Dominican Republic and really hungry for us to win. This year, the dedication of these players to take the crown to the Dominican Republic, the fans received that game, for me, is the biggest thing that's happened in the Dominican in recent memory. Nobody slept that day."
Aybar gets 'first crack' at No. 2 spot in order
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The coveted No. 2 spot in the Angels lineup, between the dynamic Mike Trout and the threatening duo of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, is now Erick Aybar's to lose.
Aybar has started in the No. 2 spot in back-to-back days since returning from the World Baseball Classic, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia confirmed on Friday that the switch-hitting shortstop will get "first crack" there to open the season.
"That's what our template is," Scioscia said, "and hopefully we'll get a little chemistry going here in the last week [of Spring Training]. There are other candidates that we're looking at, as well. But right now, I think he'll probably get first crack."
The other candidates are right-handed-hitting second baseman Howie Kendrick and switch-hitting third baseman Alberto Callaspo, each of whom can hit there if the matchup is right or if Aybar doesn't produce.
And each bring something different to the table.
Aybar is a good bunter, has speed and hit .347 in the last two months of the season last year, but he isn't all that patient. Callaspo is very patient, and also provides a presence from the left side, but he finished 2012 with a .252/.331/.361 slash line. Kendrick has the most power of the trio, and he is scorching this spring with a .521 batting average and a hit in each of his 16 starts, but he has always proven to be better in an RBI spot lower in the lineup.
Out of the chute, Kendrick figures to bat sixth and Callaspo seventh, with Aybar second.
But the Angels have wiggle room.
"We can rotate," Scioscia said. "If one guy takes it and runs with it, great. If not, we have other options to match up."
Angels release veteran utility man Hall
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Angels gave utility man Bill Hall his unconditional release on Friday, putting their Spring Training roster at 44 players.
Hall had a chance to compete for a bench job this spring, but he hasn't played in almost a month due to a couple of nagging injuries. The 33-year-old, who hit 35 homers with the Brewers in 2006, suffered tightness in his right quad on Feb. 27. Then, during infield drills on March 13, just as he was inching his way back to action, he strained his left calf, keeping him out of action ever since.
As an XX(b) free agent, the Angels owed Hall a $100,000 bonus to keep him in the organization, but not on the 40-man roster, by Tuesday. Hall could still sign a Minor League deal with the Angels to remain in their organization.
• The Angels handed out some Minor League awards on the field prior to Friday's game. Third baseman Kaleb Cowart was named offensive player of the year, Nick Maronde was pitcher of the year and first baseman Efren Navarro was defensive player of the year. Minor League pitching coordinator Jim Gott got the Mara Forcey Award for outstanding dedication to the organization. Minor League field coordinator Mike Micucci received the Preston Gomez Award for a high standard of excellence.
• Outfielder Kole Calhoun, competing for a backup job this spring, hasn't played since last Saturday because of tightness in his lower back, which was caused by lifting. Calhoun has been taking part in baseball activities and plans to return to game action on Saturday.
• Kevin Jepsen, out since March 9 due to tightness in his right triceps, pitched the fifth inning of a Minor League game on Friday, giving up a run on two hits with no strikeouts and no walks. .
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.