By Juan C. Rodriguez
MIAMI GARDENS—David Wright has stroked his share of big hits while wearing a Mets uniform. None compare to the one he got Tuesday with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth donning red, white and blue.
Wright’s soft liner down the right-field line brought home two runs and gave Team USA a 6-5 walk-off win over Puerto Rico in a World Baseball Classic elimination game at Dolphin Stadium. A modest, but enthusiastic crowd of 13,224 was on its feet and erupted as Brian Roberts and Jimmy Rollins crossed with the tying and winning runs three hours and 54 minutes after Ted Lilly threw the first pitch.
"You’re talking about representing the United States of America," Wright said. "You have that across the front of your chest. You’re representing a nation, and to come up and be able to get that hit, that’s got to be right up there at the top of the list."
Added first baseman Kevin Youkilis: ‘When you win the World Series and stuff like that, the dog pile is the same. That was nuts to go out there and do that, and just to be able to celebrate with different guys. I think that’s the most special thing is you’re celebrating a game, you’re celebrating a nation."
With the win, Team USA joins Venezuela in this weekend’s semifinals at Dodger Stadium. The two teams will meet tonight to determine the pool winner in an otherwise meaningless game.
Team USA accomplished its goal of getting to Los Angeles and did so with the help of some erratic Puerto Rico relievers. J.C. Romero recorded the final out in the eighth with the tying run on second, but he sputtered in the ninth. Shane Victorino and Roberts opened the ninth with back-to-back singles and Romero walked Rollins to load the bases with one out.
Fernando Cabrera entered and made it a one-run game when he walked Youkilis on five pitches. Wright got ahead 2-0 and ultimately dumped the 2-1 offering in a perfect spot where neither first baseman Carlos Delgado nor right fielder Alex Rios could do a thing.
"I didn’t get quite the pitch I was looking for, but I hit it in the right spot," Wright said. "Every hitter in that dugout wants to be in that situation . . . I just wanted to stay selective. You have that excitement going, you’ve got that energy going. You don’t want to get out of your element."
Puerto Rico recorded two of its five hits during a one-run ninth off Jonathan Broxton. Rios and Delgado accounted for its first three runs with homers off Lilly in the second and fourth innings, respectively.
In addition, Puerto Rico also squandered a Carlos Beltran leaping catch at the wall that appeared to rob Brian McCann of the go-ahead homer in the fourth.
"(Team USA) stayed in the fight," Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo said. "We thought about leaving Saul (Rivera) for the end of the game. We had the situation in the (seventh) inning with Youkilis (up and two on) and decided to bring him in then and he did the job. J.C. Romero has done the job in this capacity during this whole tournament and his career."
Added U.S. manager Davey Johnson: "We need to be (in the semifinals). We play the best baseball around the world. The world is catching up with us, but we need to be there and it’s going to be a great event. I can’t wait."