Puerto Rico qualified for the second round of the World Baseball Classic in front of a packed house in Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, eliminating heavily-favoured Venezuela in a 6-3 pitcher’s duel. It is the first time in WBC history that Venezuela did not win at least three games in the tourney.
Both teams were scoreless in the first two innings and neither country threatened until the bottom of the third. Venezuela’s Omar Infante roped a double with one out and came home on a single by Marco Scutaro. Asdrubal Cabrera drew a free pass from Puerto Rican starter Nelson Figueroa, who got Miguel Cabrera to pop out.
Pablo Sandoval hit his second double of the Classic to score Scutaro, but Venezuela’s chances of a big inning were ended when Asdrubal Cabrera was thrown out at the plate. Rightfielder Álex Ríos hurled the ball in to Martín Maldonaldo, who zipped a throw to Yadier Molina, who tagged out Cabrera.
Desperate for a win to avoid elimination, Venezuela handed a 2-0 lead to big league veteran Carlos Zambrano, who had looked like his old self through the first three frames.
Zambrano immediately ran into trouble, giving up a double to Ángel Pagán, though a nifty play by Miguel Cabrera erased him at third on a grounder by Irving Falú. The ‘Big Z’ failed to take advantage, walking Ríos and throwing a wild pitch to put two runners in scoring position. A walk to Molina with two outs loaded the bases and ended Zambrano’s night after 3 2/3 innings.
Enrique González took the hill, and Mike Aviles wasted no time in lacing a ball to centre that scored Falú and Ríos. Venezuela’s centerfielder, Gerardo Parra, took a page out of Ríos’ book, uncorking a throw to Sandoval at third base to catch Molina and end the inning.
Venezuela was unable to get back any of the runs against Figueroa, who tossed four innings. The right-hander gave up two runs on five hits and no walks, getting one batter swinging.
Hendersón Álvarez took the hill in the top of the fifth for Venezuela and quickly coughed up the lead on a leadoff walk. Maldonaldo was the beneficiary, moving over on a sacrifice bunt. Pagán sent him home with two outs on a single to centre, and it was 3-2 Puerto Rico.
Giovanni Soto replaced Figueroa, who had reached his pitch limit, and was eye-opening in three innings of work. The Cleveland Indians’ minor leaguer, who only reached Double-A this year, started off his appearance by getting a popup from Infante and striking out Scutaro and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Álvarez and Soto both hurled scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh before the Venezuelan hurler ran out of fuel in the eighth. The right-hander plunked Ríos to start the frame and gave up a single to Carlos Beltrán. Juan Rincón came in to face Molina, and gave up a single to load the bases.
Aviles got his third RBI on a sacrifice fly and César Jiménez got a key strikeout, but Venezuelan closer Francisco Rodríguez then gave up a double to Luís Figueroa that scored Beltrán and Molina. Puerto Rico’s lead grew to 6-2 with the blow off the all-time leader in WBC saves.
J.C. Romero struck out a pair in a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth, and Rodríguez stayed on to pitch the ninth. Puerto Rico was retired three-up, three-down.
Romero stayed on for the ninth against Venezuela, but gave up a one-out double to Salvador Pérez who was plated by Martín Prado’s second two-base hit of the tourney. Fernando Cabrera came in to finish off the eighth-ranked Venezuelans, and got two easy outs for the save, getting a strikeout of pinch hitter Miguel Montero.
Figueroa earned the win for Puerto Rico, which improved to 2-0 and earned a spot in the second round for the third-straight year despite the absences of Albert Pujols and David Ortiz. Álvarez took the loss for Venezuela.
Prado was the only player for the losers with two hits. Venezuela’s much heralded offence managed only seven safeties, though four were doubles. Pagán’s three hits led both teams as did Aviles’ three RBIs. Beltrán added two more hits to his total, including his second double.
Venezuela was officially eliminated from the tournament, though they had much to play for in their final matchup with Spain, as the last place-finisher in each pool is relegated to the qualifying tournaments.
Stay tuned for all news, analysis, and reviews of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.