David Wright, dubbed ‘Captain America’ after his clutch grand slam against Italy, came through again in the second round of the World Baseball Classic. The U.S. third baseman doubled his WBC-leading RBI total to 10 in a 7-1 victory over Puerto Rico.
The final score was not indicative of how hard a battle this was for the U.S. Four of the runs came in the Americans’ last two times at bat, as Puerto Rican pitching kept them off balance for most of the game.
The U.S. was first to score, plating a run in the opening frame. Ryan Braun walked against Mario Santiago and scored on a double by Joe Mauer, who reached base four times in the game.
Puerto Rico, which scored the fewest runs of any team to make the second round, looked helpless against Gio González, making his first appearance in the Classic. The southpaw did not allow more than one baserunner to reach base in any inning, regularly hitting the mid-90s/low-150s with a nasty two-seam fastball and using a nifty curve.
The red, white, and blue gave González an insurance run in the third inning. Brandon Phillips stroked a hit to left to start the frame, and Ryan Braun followed with an infield hit to the hole at shortstop. After a walk to Mauer loaded the bases, Wright drove in his first run on a grounder. The U.S. would leave two on in the inning, but took a 2-0 lead.
Neither team threatened in the fourth, and González finished his outing with a 1-2-3 fifth, striking out two batters. The U.S. fell short of another big inning in the bottom of the frame, but pushed across its third run.
Rollins singled to right and moved over on a sacrifice bunt. Santiago struck out Ryan Braun, but strike three bounced away from catcher Yadier Molina and Braun raced to first. That was all for Santiago, who went 4 1/3 innings. Andres Santiago walked Mauer to load the bases and Wright came through with a RBI single through the right side of the infield. Puerto Rico got the next two outs, but it was now 3-0.
Neither nation added to the scoreboard in the sixth, and Vinnie Pestano followed Jeremy Affeldt’s scoreless sixth with his own in the seventh. The U.S. once more scraped together a run, this time with two outs. Eric Hosmer beat out an infield hit to shortstop and stole second base. Adam Jones laced a single to centre to make it 4-0.
Puerto Rico finally got on the board in the eighth. Pinch hitter Jesús Feliciano was hit to start the frame and moved to third on a double by Eddie Rosario, a 21-year old top Minnesota Twins’ prospect. Feliciano scored on a grounder by Ángel Pagán. David Hernández prevented Puerto Rico from getting any closer, though.
With the U.S. only now firmly in control, three more insurance runs were tallied in the bottom of the frame. Jimmy Rollins started things off with a single over second base and Braun beat out another ground ball single to the left side of the infield.
Joe Mauer earned his third free pass to load the bases, but Wright once more stepped up, crushing a double to deep centre, the longest ball hit during the game. He was stranded at second, but Craig Kimbrel got three outs in the ninth and the 7-1 score was final.
The irony of Wright’s moniker is that it was cemented in a game which featured two teams from the United States, as Puerto Rico is a territorial dependency. Wright tied Hisayoshi Chōno, who hit the mark earlier in the day, and José Abreu for most RBI in a game in the 2013 Classic. The mark is still short of Ken Griffey, Jr.’s memorable seven RBI-day in 2006 against South Africa.
Rollins, Braun, and Giancarlo Stanton joined Wright with two hits, with the first hitters scoring twice as well. Puerto Rican pitching kept the U.S. from finding its groove until the eighth inning, as the U.S. stranded 12 runners and hit 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
Rosario was the only Puerto Rican with two knocks against the U.S. The team banged out only seven hits and was 0-for-7 with baserunners on second or third.
Mario Santiago took the loss, though he pitched out of two predicaments in his 4 1/3 frames. He gave up three runs on five hits and two walks, striking out three with a 96-mph/154-kmh fastball. Six other pitchers toed the rubber for Puerto Rico, with José de la Torre’s sixth inning the most impressive. The Boston Red Sox minor league struck out Rollins, Phillips, and Braun with two on.
González got his first WBC victory for the U.S. He hurled five shutout innings, allowing just three hits while whiffing five. Five relievers closed out the game.
Italy and Puerto Rico will battle to remain in the World Baseball Classic on Mar. 13 at 7 p.m. EST in Marlins Park. The loser will go home in the double-elimination bracket. The United States will have a day off to prepare for the Dominican Republic on Mar. 14 at 7 p.m. EST. The winner will automatically qualify for the semifinals in San Francisco.
Stay tuned for news and analysis of the rest of the Classic.