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SAN DIEGO—Puerto Rico faced a pretty straightforward scenario Friday night: Win, and it’d be on the way to the World Baseball Classic semifinals.
With that situation prominent in their heads, the Puerto Ricans wasted no time putting themselves in prime position for victory.
Puerto Rico opened with six consecutive singles off Marcus Stroman (0-1) in a four-run first inning and held off multiple rallies, topping the United States 6-5 at Petco Park and clinching a spot in the semifinals.
“It’s something really special. Nothing compares to this moment right now,” third baseman Carlos Correa said. “Playing for my home, being able to represent Puerto Rico and to be able to bring a lot of joy and happiness to the people back home that are going through a tough time right now—for me this is up there in my baseball career.”
Puerto Rico, the defending tournament runners-up, improved to 2-0 in second-round play and 5-0 overall in the WBC. It will face the Netherlands on Monday in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Brandon Crawford’s two-run triple with two outs in the ninth brought the U.S. within a run and put the tying run on third, but Edwin Diaz struck out Josh Harrison swinging to end it and silence the hopeful “U-S-A” chants ringing around the ballpark.
Backed by a large, boisterous crowd of 32,463, Puerto Rico put the Americans in an early hole from which they wouldn’t be able to recover.
Angel Pagan, Francisco Lindor, Correa, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Javier Baez all singled off Stroman to begin the bottom of first, a barrage that brought three runs home in a matter of minutes and aroused the considerable Puerto Rican fan base to a fever pitch.
“We had a plan with Stroman . . . and we executed our job and our plan,” Beltran said. “That first inning was just incredible because it gave us so much confidence. We went to the field with much more intensity, and we were confident with each one of us.”
Eddie Rosario capped the barrage with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0. They were the first earned runs allowed by a U.S. starting pitcher the entire tournament.
Stroman settled in to not allow another run after the first, but it was still a shaky evening for the Blue Jays righthander. Stroman lasted just 4.2 innings, giving up eight hits, and struck out just two.
“I thought they gave Marcus some really good, tough at-bats in the first inning,” Team USA manager Jim Leyland said. “He made some good pitches. Couple balls hit decent. Couple balls they did a great job of hitting. Put the ball in play, and they fell in.”
Seth Lugo and the Puerto Rican bullpen made the early lead stand up, albeit by just enough.
The U.S. got on the board in the second when Nolan Arenado led off with a double and Eric Hosmer followed with a single up the middle to score him. Buster Posey led off the fifth with a solo homer and Adam Jones added a solo shot in the sixth to cut Puerto Rico’s lead to 4-3.
But Lugo and Alex Claudio combined to escape the sixth with Puerto Rico’s lead intact, and a throwing error by Arenado at third base brought two more runs home for Puerto Rico in the bottom of the inning and extended the lead back out to 6-3.
Those extra runs proved to be crucial when Crawford’s triple off the left-field wall in the ninth made it a one-run game, but the U.S. couldn’t get the final knock it needed against Diaz.
“There was quite a bit of pressure,” Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “After this tournament, I think with Edwin Diaz, when that season of major league hits, he’s going to know how to handle it.”
Overall the game was one of frustration for Team USA. The Americans fell behind right away, Leyland emerged from the dugout twice to express disagreement with first base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, and Andrew McCutchen was ejected in the sixth by home plate umpire Will Little for arguing balls and strikes. Puerto Rico ran on them at will, going 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts including three steals by Baez, and the defense was sloppy with two errors and a host of other miscues.
Team USA has to move on quickly. It will face the Dominican Republic at 7 p.m. on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the semifinals and the loser eliminated.
“We’re going to come back,” Crawford said. “It will be a tough game (tonight), but the effort and the passion will definitely be there.”