GUADALAJARA, México – It was billed as one of the best games in the World Baseball Classic, but Puerto Rico never allowed Venezuela to get going, and kept scoring until the mercy rule came into effect. In a game that featured two stacked lineups and quality hurlers, it was the pitching that initially delivered, but Puerto Rico gradually pulled away in a shocking 11-0 blowout.
Carlos Correa hit a titanic home run and Seth Lugo was perfect through the first 11 batters, tossing 5 1/3 shutout innings in an impressively calm performance. Puerto Rico, considered along with Venezuela to be one of the favourites in the Classic, belted out 10 hits, including three homers.
The first two innings were quick 1-2-3 frames, as Lugo matched Venezuela’s ace Félix Hernández pitch for pitch, with both looking dominant. Puerto Rico broke the deadlock in the third as Eddie Rosario tripled down the right field line, taking third on a carom off the wall. A T.J. Rivera sacrifice fly scored him, but Puerto Rico was not finished, loading the bases for a RBI walk to Carlos Beltrán.
Gregory Infante came in, and Yadier Molina greeted him with a massive fly to centre that just stayed up for Ender Inciarte to catch. Puerto Rico’s veteran catcher missed a grand slam by inches, but Venezuela failed to take advantage.
Lugo continued to roll, and would hit his pitch limit in the sixth, exiting with a one-hit, 3-strikeout game. He induced eight groundballs and did not walk a batter, earning the win in his first international appearance.
“Seth was very efficient with his pitches and got us into the sixth,” noted Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodríguez after the game. “He was the key to the game, allowing us to manage the bullpen.”
The sixth inning saw plenty of action, but Venezuela failed to score despite loading the bases with Carlos González at the plate with two outs. Meanwhile, Correa led off the bottom of the frame with his stratospheric roundtripper, and Molina followed another walk to Beltrán with an opposite field drive that gave Puerto Rico a 5-0 lead. Molina was clearly elated as he rounded third,
pumping his fist in excitement.
Venezuela had Odubel Herrera on second with two outs in the seventh, but it was only the sixth baserunner of the night for its vaunted offence, and Joe Jiménez struck out Alcides Escobar to end the threat.
Jhoulys Chacín, who had entered in the fourth, came out for the seventh after throwing a scoreless fourth and fifth, then getting rocked for the two homers in the sixth. He quickly got two outs, but fell apart after Correa reached on a fielder’s choice and stole second.
The theft seemed benign at the time, but Carlos Beltrán, Yadier Molina, and Javy Báez followed with a single apiece. Eddie Rosario drove in two with a double, and that set up T.J. Rivera, batting eighth, for a no-doubt two-run shot to left off Deolis Guerra, who allowed hits to all four batters he faced.
Puerto Rico mobbed Rivera as he crossed home, and the fans went wild over the island’s second-ever win over Venezuela in WBC action. The clubs have now played four times, claiming two wins each.
“We know we have very good arms,” explained Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodríguez. “It was a good team effort-I could point out multiple players [who contributed]. We have the best arms we have had in any competition, and the common denominator is Yadi Molina, who knows how to manage them, when to go to the mound and talk to them.”
Lugo agreed, consistently deflecting praise to Molina. “It was great not having to worry about my game plan and just throwing the pitch that Yadi put down. It really helped me relax knowing that.”
“He comes out to the mound and tells me to just trust my pitches, doesn’t have to be nasty, just throw it. Yadi really gives you a good boost of confidence,” continued Lugo. “I just followed Yadi, so I wasn’t surprised that I kept them off balance. It was really just him.”
“We swung at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone,” noted Venezuela’s skipper Omar Vizquel. “Lugo and Molina kept us off balance. The young players played really well, though. Everyone collaborated, and that’s what you want to see in a team.”
Hernández took the loss, coming out after 51 pitches as Vizquel did not want him to stretch out further in a very long third inning. The veteran righty finished with a line of 2 2/3 innings, two hits, one earned run, two walks, and three strikeouts. Chacin took one for the team with 3 2/3 frames, four hits, a walk, five earned runs, and a pair of whiffs.
Eddie Rosario quietly finished a home run short of the cycle, scoring twice and driving in a pair. Molina was the only other Puerto Rican with two hits, while Beltrán reached base three times and plated two.
“Yadi and Carlos did really enjoy their performance,” noted Rodríguez. “They will pleased to know [in reference to the question] they looked like 25-year olds!”
Correa got all the headlines, though, in his first appearance with the national team. He added strong defensive work playing out of position at third base, and was an electric presence for the stadium’s approving fans.
“Carlos Correa did everything!” exclaimed Rodríguez after the game. “He defended third base, he stole bases, hit home runs, and had two very good at-bats.”
“What combination of Correa, Lindor and Baez, and any time in a lineup in the same team, in the same infield, we are enjoying it,” concluded Rodríguez. “Puerto Rico, Latin America and the U.S. and the whole world is enjoying it, and we all saw why. It was so much the defense of these three people; it’s awesome. They are young athletes who are very agile, and we saw why. You enjoy looking at those guys move around in the infield.
“Today was one of the most proud moments of my entire career, to be able to put on my Puerto Rican uniform for the first time ever,” said an obviously proud Correa. “It’s something that I have been dreaming of my whole life and hoping for since I got drafted.”
The two squads will be back in action tomorrow (March 11), with Venezuela taking on Italy at 8 p.m. GMT, while México and Puerto Rico will tangle 2:30 a.m. later that night. Be sure to stay tuned to extrainnings_bb on Twitter for live coverage, interviews, pictures, and analysis of both games.