Alex Rios scores when it matters. His two-run shot was all the padding Puerto Rico needed to, some would say upset, two-time World Baseball Classic winner Japan, 3-1.
For the first time since the tourney’s inception, Puerto Rico made sure Japan would be excluded from the Finals. The Boricuan team has upset Team USA on Thursday, before its pitchers, starting with winning righty and Korean league veteran Mario Santiago, implemented what appeared to be a game-winning strategy with World’s Greatest Catcher Yadier Molina.
Santiago, who now pitches for the Dodgers organization, worked quicker, almost half the time it took Japan’s starter Kenta Maeda between pitches, preventing Japan’s hitters from getting comfortable in the box, as recognized in the broadcast by Matt Vasgersian.
Japan threatened in the eighth inning before an uncharacteristic mistake on a double steal negated the at bat of the team’s cleanup hitter Shinnsuke Abe.
Instead of having runners on second and first, Abe watched from the box as lead runner Hirokazu Ibata faked breaking to third. It was so good, apparently, that it fooled his teammate Seiichi Uchikawa. He was so stunned to see Ibata’s feet planted firmly on the second base bag, he was tagged out by Molina, running from home plate to make the tag himself.
Abe grounded out to end Japan’s rally, and its chances of retaining a crown it hasn’t given up through seven years and two tourneys. Lefty reliever J.C. Romero, one of the few Major League veterans in Puerto Rico’s unheralded staff, combined with closer Fernando Cabrera to clinch the game, and a shot to win baseball’s version of the World Cup.