LOS ANGELES—There were fist pumps, bat flips and chest thumps. There were screams and exhortations and sprints out of the dugout. There were thunderous contacts and 99-mph heaters and full-speed slides into the bag. And there were the benches emptying in the 10th inning of a tie game.
Puerto Rico and the Netherlands brought every ounce of energy they could muster into their World Baseball Classic semifinal matchup on Monday evening.
In the end it was Puerto Rico, helped along by the international tiebreaker rule, that had enough to finish.
Eddie Rosario hit the game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 11th inning to score Carlos Correa from third, and Puerto Rico advanced to championship game for the second straight WBC with a 4-3 win over the Netherlands at Dodger Stadium.
“I would say one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of, undoubtedly, and to do it in this semifinal game,” Correa said, “it meant tremendously to us and for me personally.”
Puerto Rico and the Netherlands entered the 11th tied 3-3 and the Dutch had a prime chance to break the stalemate. Per international tiebreaker rules, Netherlands began the inning with runners on first and second and no outs. But after a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to load the bases with one out, Edwin Diaz induced a 4-6-3 double play from Curt Smith and Puerto Rico escaped without allowing a run.
Given the same advantage in the bottom of the frame, Puerto Rico capitalized. Yadier Molina laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Correa to third base and Kike Hernandez to second, and Javier Baez was intentionally walked.
Rosario wasted no time. The Twins outfielder stepped up and lined a first-pitch fastball from Loek Van Mil into center field that was snagged by Jurickson Profar at intermediate depth, and Correa raced home and slid in well ahead of the throw to send Puerto Rico streaming onto the field in celebration.“We want to give everything for our country, give them joy,” Diaz said. “We see this game like it was the last game.”
The ending culminated a wild 4 hour, 19-minute affair that tested the resolve of even the most hardened veteran.
Puerto Rico stranded nine men on base and the Netherlands 10. A combined 12 pitchers were used. Go-ahead runs were on base for both teams in the seventh and eighth innings but were stranded.
In the end, it was Puerto Rico that came up in crunch time, moved its record in this year's WBC to 7-0, and made its way back to the finals.
“it’s always difficult to lose a game like this where we had opportunities,” Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. “There were no runs for a long time. In the 11th inning, we had the opportunity with the bases loaded and one out, and we were unable to do what they did.”
Wladimir Balentien got the fireworks started with a massive two-run homer into the left-field pavilion off Jorge Lopez in the first. The damage could have been worse had Yadier Molina not already thrown two runners out on the basepaths, including getting Jurickson Profar as he walked back to first base celebrating a single.
Still, Balentien let it be known the Dutch had the energy to match Puerto Rico, violently flipping his bat and pounding his chest as he left the batters box for his trot around the bases.
Correa responded in kind in the bottom of the inning, mashing a two-run homer off Rick van den Hurk to tie it and raising his arms as he circled the bases. His Puerto Rican teammates streamed out of the dugout waving their flag, and greeted Correa en masse at the plate.
“The first thing we want to do when we’re so intense is just to calm down, take control of the emotions and have the abilities take care of the game,” Correa said. “In my case, I didn’t feel any pressure.”
T.J. Rivera launched a solo homer down the left field line to give Puerto Rico a 3-2 lead in the second. The Dutch tied it on Shawn Zarraga's RBI double in the fifth, but Puerto Rico was still the team to come away with the momentum after a perfect relay from the outfield nailed Jonathan Schoop at the plate trying to score the go-ahead run from first.
Angel Pagan barehanded a carom off the wall and fired on a line to Baez, who unleashed a perfect one-hopper from shallow left field to Molina at the plate, where he layed the tag on Schoop's hip just in time to keep the Dutch from taking the lead.
Baez continued to figure prominently on defense, recording a pair of nifty 4-3 double plays to end both the eighth and ninth innings and stifle any Netherlands attempt at a rally.
“I’ve been in this game 40 years and never seen a player like (Baez),” Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “The passion, the energy, the joy. And what he did for us tonight was incredible.”
Kenley Jansen provided a similar jolt to the Dutch, trotting in to heady applause in his home stadium and making his WBC debut with a nine-pitch ninth inning, keeping the game tied and forcing it to extra innings.
That's where it got interesting. Balentien took issue with a high fastball from Diaz in the top of the 10th and let it be known, causing both benches to clear. The umpires were able to keep the teams separate before anything escalated, but the tensions were palpable.
Diaz, fresh off being challenged, fired a 99-mph fastball on the outside corner to strike Balentien out looking the following pitch. He followed with a strikeout of Schoop, and thumped his chest in celebration as he bounced off the mound, much to the joy of his teammates and his fans.
“We got excited, you know,” Diaz said. “I wasn’t trying to hit him in such a close game, but we were full of emotions, and they came out of the dugout. I just tried to calm it down. He’s doing his job. It’s not the first time we’re in this situation in this campaign, so he knows what he has to do.”
Riding that energy, Diaz continued his excellence into the 11th, setting the stage for Rosario to end it.