There will be a new World Baseball Classic champ this year, as Puerto Rico eliminated Japan last night, winning 3-1 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Alex Rios led the charge, singling in a run in the first inning and hitting a two-run homer in the seventh. Puerto Rico starter Mario Santiago shut down the Japanese on two hits over five innings before leaving with forearm stiffness. Japanese starter Kenta Maeda pitched five innings of four-hit ball, one of those being Rios’ RBI. The homer came off reliever Atsushi Nohmi. Japan’s lone run came when Takashi Toritani was singled in after hitting a one-out triple in the eighth, but they then ran themselves out of the inning.
Puerto Rico clearly had the advantage in talent, with guys like Rios, Mike Aviles, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina facing a Japanese lineup with no current major leaguers. Still, in the context of international competition it’s an upset. And if they’re going to win it all, another upset may very well be required: they face the winner of tonight’s Netherlands-Dominican Republic matchup in tomorrow night’s Championship Game.