Team Italy was five outs away from another shocking upset in the World Baseball Classic, but Puerto Rico came storming back to score three runs in the bottom of the eighth as Puerto Rico beat Italy, 4-3. The loss eliminated Italy from the tournament and sets up Puerto Rico to play the loser of the United States/Dominican Republic game for the fourth and final spot in the semi-finals in San Francisco.
Both starting pitchers kept the other team in check for four innings. But Italy finally got to Puerto Rico starter Giancarlo Alvarado in the fifth inning, loading the bases with one out on two singles and a catcher's interference call. Alvarado then exited so that left-hander Xavier Cedeno could face Anthony Rizzo. The move backfired when Rizzo smashed a three-run double into the right-center field gap.
For Italy, it was former Cubs farm hand Alex Maestri, who currently pitches for Orix in NPB. Maestri exited in the fifth inning with two on and one out, but minor league veteran Chris Cooper got a fly out and a strike out to end the threat with Italy still leading 3-0.
For Maestri, he finished with 4.1 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and walking two. He struck out three. Alvarado gave up three runs, two earned, on five hits over 4.1 innings as well. He walked one and struck out four.
Puerto Rico got on the board in the bottom of the sixth inning when Yadier Molina scored with two out on an error by shortstop Anthony Granato. The score stayed that way until the bottom of the eighth inning. With Cooper still on the mound, he walked Carlos Beltran to lead off the inning. Italian manager Marco Mazzieri then pulled Cooper for Nick Pugliese, who allowed a single to Yadier Molina, putting runners on first and third with no outs.
Then, with the game on the line, Mazzieri pulled Pugliese not for his best pitcher, Pirates closer Jason Grilli, but instead went to Brian Sweeney, who pitched for the Mariners Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League last year. Sweeney got a ground ball from Mike Aviles for the first out, but Beltran scored for the second Puerto Rico run. Next up, Alex Rios singled off Sweeney to put runners on first and third with still only one out.
Once again, Mazzieri went to the bullpen not for Grilli, but for Pat Venditte, to face switch-hitter Luis Figueroa. Figueroa hit a sacrifice fly to tie the score and then Andy Gonzalez singled home Rios on a very hard hit ball that Alex Liddi couldn't corral, giving Puerto Rico a 4-3 lead.
Italy couldn't score in the top of the ninth as J.C. Romero entered the game with nobody on and two out in the ninth. Romero walked Rizzo, but then struck out Liddi to end the game and collect the save.
Jason Grilli never entered the game.
Yadier Molina had the big bat for Puerto Rico, going 3 for 4. Chris Denorfia was 3 for 5 with a run scored for Italy.
Puerto Rico plays again on Friday at 6 pm Central against the loser of the USA/Dominican Republic game tonight, also at 6pm. You can watch all games on the MLB Network. I'll have a new game thread up one home before the game starts tonight.
You can vote for the WBC All-Star Team here, just like you can vote for the All-Star Team starters. Unlike the All-Star Game, the fan vote only counts for one-third of the vote. That's probably a good idea, especially since the fans have to vote before the final game is finished.
As someone who has watched at least part of every game, either live or recorded, here is my current ballot. I'm sure there will be some changes as more games are played.
C--Shinnosuke Abe, Japan
1B--Jose Abreu, Cuba
2B--Robinson Cano, Dominican Republic
3B--David Wright, United States
SS--Andrelton Simmons, Netherlands
OF--Michael Saunders, Canada
OF--Alfredo Despaigne, Cuba
OF--Angel Pagan, Puerto Rico
DH-Chris Colabello, Italy
P--Danny Betancourt, Cuba
P--Kenta Maeda, Japan
P-Chien-Ming Wang, Chinese Taipei