MIAMI — Venezuela rode the momentum of their historic win over the Dominican Republic to jump out to an early 7-1 lead over Puerto Rico in Miami Sunday night, stunning the heavily favored Puerto Rican team. It was a raucous environment at loanDepot park, with so many fans crowding the escalators to get to the concourse an hour before the game that the escalators had to be shut down. This is just a small sample of our experience walking to our seats in centerfield:
The crowd heavily favored Puerto Rico — it was honestly a similar 70/30 split like Saturday’s match-up between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. And, just like Saturday, that did not faze the team from Venezuela at all.
Puerto Rico struggled from the first batter, with Jose Altuve reaching first base on a throwing error by second baseman Javier Báez. Luis Arraez advanced the runner on a fielder’s choice, Ronald Acuña Jr. took the first of six walks that Puerto Rico would surrender over the course of the game. Salvador Perez, on his way to a monster game, drove in Altuve with a single. And, then, Anthony Santander stepped up to the plate [VIDEO].
José Berríos did not have it on Sunday night. The veteran pitcher struggled through his entire outing, throwing 38 pitches (22 for strikes) across one complete inning of work. He came out for the second inning, but immediately gave up a double to Jose Altuve and a single to Luis Arraez before he was lifted for Fernando Cruz. His final line was 1 IP 5 H 6 R 5 ER 2 BB 1 K, and it was clear manager Yadier Molina was going to have to go to his bullpen early and often.
Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, Cruz didn’t really have it either. Cruz threw 19 pitches, 14 of them for strikes in one inning of work. One of those pitches was this ball that Perez hit a very long way to left centerfield [VIDEO].
Salvy had an absolutely monster night for Venezuela:
He was a triple short of the cycle in the top of the fourth inning and when he came up in the sixth inning, his RBI double to put Venezuela up 9-1 could have easily been scored a triple. Like, is the official scorer probably correct that this is a double and he went to third on the throw? Perhaps, and, also, there is at least a 25 percent chance that a different scorer would have given Salvy a triple here, so just give the man a cycle. You can see all of Perez’s hits below and judge for yourself [VIDEO].
Puerto Rico scored their lone run to this point on an Eddie Rosario home run in the second. It was a moment of joy for a fan base that was honestly a bit shellshocked as the Venezuelan onslaught continued [VIDEO].
Pablo López was absolutely brilliant for Venezuela. They do not have the deepest pitching in the World Baseball Classic, but their top three guys have been impeccable so far. Martín Pérez and Luis Garcia of the Astros combined for 6⅓ innings of four-hit, one-run ball on Saturday night against one of the premier lineups in the tournament in the Dominican Republic. López reraised with 4⅔ innings of two hit one run ball on 58 pitches (44 strikes) Sunday night against Puerto Rico. He struck out six, and critically, didn’t walk anyone. When he left the game it seemed like Venezuela might cruise to another big victory [VIDEO].
But Puerto Rico was not done yet, and while Andres Machado got the final out of the fifth inning quickly, things began to unravel in the sixth. It began with a walk to Vimael Machín, followed by a Francisco Lindor single and an infield single by Enrique Hernández. Jhoulys Chacín entered the game and limited the damage, but not before Puerto Rico had put four runs on the board, making the game much more interesting [VIDEO].
That inspired Yadi to put in one of his best pitchers, Reds closer Alexis Díaz (and younger brother of Mets closer, Edwin Díaz) all he did was strike out the side on 18 pitches [VIDEO].
Puerto Rico was unable to touch up Chacín in the bottom of the seventh, but when he came out again in the eighth it was a different story. Hernández reached on an error that sailed out of play putting him on second base where he was promptly driven in by an MJ Melendez double. Rivera followed him with a single that put Melendez on third and Venezuelan manager, Omar López, had seen enough. Chacín was lifted for Silvino Bracho, who not only got out of the inning unscathed, he also pitched a three-up, three-down ninth to save the game for Venezuela.
The win puts Venezuela in the driver’s seat in the World Baseball Classic’s Group of Death. The crowds were absolutely ecstatic in Miami and Pablo López summed up what the win meant to the players and fans nicely in his postgame interview:
It also sets up a crucial match-up between the two teams who were heavily favored in the group, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, who will face off on Wednesday night in Miami. In case there was any worry about Puerto Rico’s morale, they had a message for fans after the game:
Clear your calendars now — you will not want to miss Wednesday’s game. The first pitch will be thrown at 6 p.m. Central Time.