MIAMI—Puerto Rico repeatedly took the extra base—and it stole a victory from Italy.
There’s no question that Italy struggled on defense in 4-3 loss Wednesday night that sent the underdog team home. There were at least four plays that the two Italian shortstops—Anthony Granato and then Jack Santora—would love to have back.
But the aggressive baserunning by Puerto Rico must be factored in as well.
“We were putting pressure on them,” Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “And the breaks went our way.”
Here’s how Puerto Rico made its own breaks in the three-run, eighth-inning rally that won the game:
• Carlos Beltran, who had walked to lead off the inning, sped to third on Yadier Molina’s single to third.
• Mike Aviles’ groundout cut the deficit to 3-2. But had Aviles not hustled down the line, Italy would have turned the double play.
“That call could have gone either way,” Italy manager Marco Mazzieri said. “If we get that call, it’s 3-2, with no one on base.”
• On a Luis Figueroa sacrifice fly to center field, Alex Rios advanced from first to second, which turned out to be crucial.
• Finally, Rios scored from second on a ground ball to backup Santora, who should have held the ball, as he fielded it after it deflected off the third baseman Alex Liddi. In reality, Santora had no shot at getting the runner at first, and when his throw bounced, Rios scored the winning run.
“We threw to the wrong bases at the wrong time,” Mazzieri said.
Puerto Rico advanced to another elimination game, Friday night against either the U.S. or the Dominican Republic.
Italy was eliminated in two games even though it was up two runs with eight outs to go against the Dominicans on Tuesday and up two with six outs to go against Puerto Rico.
“We earned respect here,” said Italy first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whose three-run double on Wednesday nearly stood up as the winning hit.
Mazzieri said it was a “tough decision” replacing Granato after his two errors and one other miss in the sixth inning led to a crucial Puerto Rico run.
“If it was in a long season, I wouldn’t have taken him out,” Mazzieri said. “But (the errors) could have gotten into his head. I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him.”
Still, Mazzieri defended Granato.
“Anthony made the difference for us the past few years—he’s a big reason why we won the last two European Championships,” he said. “It’s not fair to point the finger at him.
“If we don’t walk (Beltran) to start the eighth, it might have been different. If we turn the double play, it might have been different. There were other situations we did not execute. That’s why we have to pack our bags and go home.”