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Mexico Rallies Past Puerto Rico, Advances To WBC Semifinals For First Time

MIAMI — Over the last few years, Mexico has methodically risen as a baseball power.

Mexico reached the Olympics for the first time at the Tokyo Games in 2021. It won Pool C at the World Baseball Classic this year, pummeling Team USA on its home turf. Long a source for talented pitchers, it has produced a steady stream of position players in recent years like Alejandro Kirk, Luis Urias and Isaac Paredes.

And now, for the first time, Mexico is going to the WBC semifinals.

Paredes delivered the game-tying two-run single in the seventh inning, Urias followed with the go-ahead RBI single and Mexico stormed back from a four-run deficit to beat Puerto Rico, 5-4, in the WBC quarterfinals on Friday.

Mexico will face Japan in the semifinals on Monday. Puerto Rico, the two-time defending runners-up, is eliminated.

“We are showing what Mexican players are capable of at the highest level,” Mexico manager Benji Gil said in Spanish. “I wish this would continue to open doors. Maybe before the tournament you could say, could Mexico play with Puerto Rico? Could they compete versus Team USA? ... The answer could have been, no.

“Right now, we can say easily that Mexico can compete against any other team, or at least this group of warriors can compete against any other team. It's a blessing to be able to be part and to have a little piece by guiding them, by leading them, as Mexican warriors.”

Mexico never let up despite a poor start.

Puerto Rico jumped on Mexico starter Julio Urias to take a 4-0 lead in the first inning, powered by back-to-back home runs from Javier Baez and Eddie Rosario. With its ace battered and a vibrant, sellout crowd largely rallying behind Puerto Rico, Mexico’s outlook was grim.

Slowly but surely, Mexico chipped away. Julio Urias rebounded to keep Puerto Rico scoreless the remainder of his outing. Paredes hit a solo home run in the second to get Mexico on the board. Alex Verdugo blooped a one-out, bases-loaded single into shallow center in the fifth to make it 4-2 and chase Puerto Rico starter Marcus Stroman from the game.

They broke through in the seventh. In what could have been a storybook moment, Puerto Rico brought in Alexis Diaz to start the inning. Diaz, the younger brother of injured Puerto Rico closer Edwin Diaz, entered to his brother’s famous entrance song, “Narco” and the crowd went wild when the video board showed a picture of Edwin Diaz’s jersey hanging in the Puerto Rico dugout.

Instead, the fairy tale quickly unraveled. Mexico loaded the bases against Diaz with no outs to chase him from the game. For a brief moment, it looked like they’d let the opportunity slip away after Jorge Lopez entered and got Joey Meneses to pop up and Rowdy Tellez to strike out swinging.

But with the game, and their team’s survival on the line, two of Mexico’s best young homegrown hitters delivered. Paredes turned on a 97 mph fastball and lined it into left field to bring home a pair and tie the score at 4-4. Luis Urias followed and fought off a 96 mph fastball in on his hands, dropping it into shallow right field for an RBI single to give Mexico a 5-4 lead and complete the comeback.

“I had never felt that adrenaline, even when I debuted in the majors,” Paredes said. “It was beautiful, the hit in the seventh inning, and Luis' hit was even better. My heart exploded.”

The late-game heroics continued on the defensive side. After Puerto Rico put the tying run on first with one out in the eighth, Emmanuel Rivera lifted a long fly ball to deep left-center that appeared headed for a game-tying RBI double. Instead, Randy Arozarena raced back, leaped and made the catch over his head before slamming into the wall. Instead of a game-tying RBI double, Arozarena’s catch kept Mexico’s lead intact and forced the runner to retreat all the way back to first base.

“Randy's crazy, he can do anything in the outfield,” Paredes said. “Only he is able to do that. He said it was easy, but during the game he told me that he didn't know how he did it.”

From there, Mexico’s bullpen finished it. After a Baez single, reliever Jake Sanchez got Rosario to pop up with runners on the corners to end the eighth inning.

Puerto Rico rallied in the ninth and put runners again on the corners with two outs, but closer Giovanny Gallegos battled through a six-pitch at-bat and struck out Kikè Hernandez looking at a slider to end the game.

Mexico’s players streamed onto the field in celebration. Puerto Rico, after reaching the last two WBC finals, was left to watch in stunned silence.

“Mexico had great pitching, we have to recognize their job,” Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina said. “Later in the game they were able to score more runs. It was a good game for both, but better for them.”

Mexico opened the WBC with a shocking, 5-4 loss to Colombia. Since then, it has gone 4-0 and beaten both Team USA and Puerto Rico, the finalists in the last WBC.

Now, it will face Japan, which has outscored opponents 47-11 while going unbeaten in the tournament. Mexico will be the definitive underdog in the matchup.

But as Mexico has shown throughout the WBC, it's on the rise and, for the first time, capable of taking down the tournament’s titans.

“Our rival is the favorite again in the remaining games, but we don't fear that,” Gil said. “This has nothing to do with the favorite. You just have to do the best on the field. We respect Japan a lot, of course, but we are focused. We are devoted, and we're going to do our best, and God willing, we'll be able to win.”

Julio Urias (Photo By Harry How Getty Images)

2023 Mexico World Baseball Classic Roster

Mexico announced its roster for the World Baseball Classic on Thursday.

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