Puerto Rico took advantage of a jittery first inning from Spain, a first-time World Baseball Classic participant, to score three runs. Giancarlo Alvarado and the bullpen then made the 3-0 lead hold, and the hosts earned their first victory in Pool C action.
Ángel Pagán, fresh off a World Series title with the San Francisco Giants, started Puerto Rico’s first inning with a ground ball that deflected off the pitcher and went toward second base for an infield hit. He went to second on a sacrifice before being joined on the base paths by Álex Ríos, who was hit by a pitch from Spain’s starter, Sergio Pérez.
Beltrán took advantage of the inexperience of the Houston Astros’ minor league pitcher by lining a two-base hit to right to score Pagán with what turned out to be the game-winning run. Yadier Molina reached with on an error that loaded the bases and Mike Aviles hit a sacrifice fly to score Ríos.
Pérez continued to struggle, putting Pedro Váldes on base with a walk and, with one out and the bases loaded, gave up the free pass to No. 8 hitter Carlos Rivera. Puerto Rico’s lead grew to 3-0, though Pérez struck out the last batter to finish the frame.
Giancarlo Alvardo, Puerto Rico’s starter, built off a 1-2-3 first innings with another three-up, three-down frame to turn the game over to his offence.
Puerto Rico threatened again in the bottom of the frame, and it was Pagán who started things off with a walk and stole second, advancing to third on a grounder. Pérez plunked Ríos once more, and the fleet-footed outfielder swiped a bag as well. Spain knew better than to pitch to Beltrán, walking him intentionally with still only one out.
With the sacks jammed, Pérez buckled down this time, getting Molina to line out to second and inducing a fly ball out from Aviles. That was all for the right-hander, who gave up three hits and walks in two frames.
Neither side threatened in the third, though each team had a chance. Bárbaro Cañizares had Spain’s first hit in the fourth against Alvarado, but was caught stealing second to end the frame. Puerto Rico’s starter cruised through four innings, striking out four and walking none.
Richard Sálazar, who had entered in relief of Pérez to start the third, gave up a double to Irving Falu in the bottom of the fourth, but had no trouble getting out of the inning. Hiram Burgos came on for Alvarado and picked up where the starter left off, and he and Sálazar coasted through the middle innings with hardly a baserunner.
The next scoring chance for either team did not come until the bottom of the eighth inning. Molina beat out an infield single to start the frame, moving to second on a ground ball. The catcher stole third base with one out, but reliever Ricardo Hernández came on to strike out pinch hitter Martín Maldonaldo and get a pop out from Luís Figueroa.
Spain had one final chance for a comeback against 12th-ranked Puerto Rico, but Burgos continued to deal, getting two easy outs before walking Cañizares on six pitches to end his night through pitch restrictions. Xavier Cedeño came on for the final out, getting pinch hitter Salomón Manriquez to strike out looking to end the game.
The 18th-rated Spanish side collected five hits and a walk against three Puerto Rican pitchers, striking out eight times. Yunesky Sánchez was the only batter with more than one hit. The victors managed only one more hit, though they walked five times. No player had multiple hits, and Puerto Rico hit .111 with runners in scoring position, leaving eight on base. They were 4-for-5 in stolen bases.
Pérez took the loss, but Spain’s bullpen was very impressive. Sálazar hurled five innings, the most by any reliever in the tournament, doing so on 57 pitches. He allowed two hits and a walk, whiffing a pair. Sálazar tied Pedro Lazo’s record set in 2006 for most innings pitched in a game by a reliever. Eric González got one out in the eight before Hernández came on for the two final outs.
Puerto Rico’s pitching was dominant, led by the victorious Alvarado’s four frames. Burgos pitched 4 2/3, scattering four hits and a walk, sending down three on strikes for the hold. Cedeño earned his first save in international play.
Stay tuned for more news, analysis, and game reviews of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.