USA TODAY Sports
It was win or go home for both teams and in the end, it was Puerto Rico that hung on to win and it was the United States that went home.
Puerto Rico scored three runs in the sixth inning and held on to defeat Team USA, 4-3 in the World Baseball Classic. The win clinches a berth in the final four for Puerto Rico and eliminates the United States from the tournament. It is the second time in three WBCs that the US has failed to get out of the second round.
Puerto Rico starting pitcher Nelson Figueroa pitched the game of his life. While his velocity was only 87-88 mph, he was hitting all his spots and keeping the powerful US lineup off the bases. Team USA did not get a base hit until the fourth inning and only managed two hits in six innings off of Figueroa. Figueroa exited after six scoreless innings, walking one and striking out two.
US starter Ryan Vogelsong was good too, but not as good as Figueroa. He gave up a run on a two-out single to Mike Aviles which scored Angel Pagan. After that, he kept the score 1-0 until the top of the sixth inning. Vogelsong walked Carlos Beltran with out out. He then got Yadier Molina to fly out to right for the second out, but was then pulled from the game for Vinnie Pestano, setting up a righty-righty matchup with Aviles again.
Pestano squandered the platoon split as Aviles knocked his first pitch into right field for a single. Pestano then walked Alex Rios to load the bases. With the bases loaded and two out, Pestano walked Carlos Rivera for one run and then Andy Gonzalez lined a double down the left field line to make the score 4-0. Pestano exited for Jeremy Affeldt without recording an out.
Once Figueroa exited the game, the United States was able to get some offense going. Reliever Giovanni Soto got into trouble when Joe Mauer lined a one-out triple into the gap in left-center with one out. The next batter, Giancarlo Stanton, ended a 14 innings scoreless streak for Team USA when he singled him home. One out later, Eric Hosmer singled to bring Adam Jones to the plate as the tying run, but Soto exited for Jose De La Torre, who struck out Jones to end the threat.
The United States put together another threat in the eighth after Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Phillips both singled with one out and Ryan Braun doubled home Rollins. Joe Mauer would walk to load the bases and after a Stanton pop out, Ben Zobrist walked and forced in a run.
With the score 4-3 Puerto Rico with the bases loaded and two outs, Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez went to his closer, left-hander J.C. Romero. Torre left the left-handed Hosmer bat against Romero and he induced an easy ground ball to second base.
Romero retired the side in order in the ninth to seal the victory.
Vogelsong took the loss for Team USA. He gave up two runs on four hits and two walks over 5.2 innings. Vogelsong struck out one.
Pagan was 2 for 3 with a walk. Aviles was 2 for 4. For the US, Rollins was 2 for 5 and Phillips went 2 for 4.
There were a couple of questionable managing decisions by Joe Torre that may have cost Team USA the game. Rollins was thrown out stealing in the sixth inning with two outs and the US trailing by four. In this case, it is possible that Rollins was running on his own or misread a sign. But the decision to let Hosmer bat in the eighth against Romero while he had Jonathan Lucroy on the bench is directly on Torre's head. Lucroy has a career .930 OPS against lefties whereas Hosmer's is .588.
At least he didn't bunt. That was Puerto Rico manager Rodriguez, who bunted leading by a run in the ninth inning with Angel Pagan at the plate, who is arguably Puerto Rico's best hitter. At least he's one of the top three.
So the tournament ends for Team USA, but not for me and I hope not for you. Team Dominicana and Team Puerto Rico play Saturday at noon, Central. That game is only to determine seeding. The winner gets a day off and plays the Netherlands on Monday. The loser plays Japan on Sunday night.
I'll do previews and game threads for the three games in San Francisco, but if you wish to discuss this afternoon's seeding game, feel free to do so here.
There is still a lot of thrilling baseball to be played.