BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—Italy spent much of the World Baseball Classic’s second round leading. But instead of a 2-0 record, the Italians are leaving Marlins Park winless.
Puerto Rico rallied to defeat Italy, 4-3, in front of 25,788 fans Wednesday night, putting up three runs in the eighth inning against four pitchers.
Italy was eliminated. Puerto Rico, aided by sloppy Italian defense, will play another elimination game Friday night against the USA-Dominican Republic loser.
The decisive Puerto Rican eighth started when Carlos Beltran walked off of lefthanded reliever Chris Cooper. Yadier Molina sent Beltran to third with a single to right off of new pitcher Nicholas Pugliese.
Mariners farmhand Brian Sweeney, a righthander, was brought in to face Mike Aviles, who nearly bounced into a double play. Instead, he beat the throw for a run-scoring fielder’s choice to cut Puerto Rico’s deficit to 3-2.
After a single by Alex Rios, the fourth Italian pitcher of the inning, Yankees farmhand Pat Venditte, allowed a sacrifice fly to center to tie the score, 3-3.
The winning run scored on a grounder to the hole by Andy Gonzalez. Shortstop Jack Santora fielded the ball after it was deflected by third baseman Alex Liddi. Santora’s throw was into the dirt at first, and the alert Rios scored, having never stopped running from second.
Santora, a former UCLA teammate of Troy Glaus in the mid-1990s, was only in the game because starting shortstop Anthony Granato was pulled after making two errors and a third miss that was ruled a hit—all in the sixth inning. That cost Italy a run.
Before the Puerto Rican uprising, Italy had taken a 3-0 lead in the fifth, thanks to a big hit from Padres first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
The rally started with a one-out single by Granato. Nick Punto reached when Molina was called for catcher interference, and Chris Denorfia’s single loaded the bases.
Lefty reliever Xavier Cedeno was brought in to replace righthanded starter Giancarlo Alvarado.
But the lefty-vs.-lefty ploy did not work as Rizzo’s shot one-hopped the fence in right field.
That gave Italy an early lead that it held until the bottom of the eighth, a repeat of its Pool 2 opener against the Dominican Republic. In that game, Italy had scored four runs in the first inning and led the DR until a three-run eighth-inning meltdown that cost Italy the game.
Italy led for 16 of its 18 innings in Miami. Nevertheless, it’s out of the tournament.