Puerto Rico defeated Japan 3-1 in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic to eliminate the two-time defending champion from the tournament.
Mike Aviles, a shortstop for Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, had a run-scoring single in the first inning for Puerto Rico and Chicago White Sox outfielder Alex Rios added a two-run home run in the seventh inning. Six Puerto Rican pitchers limited Japan to six hits and one run last night at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Puerto Rico, which ousted the U.S. in the second round, will face the winner of today’s semifinal between the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands in the championship game tomorrow.
“We’re pretty confident and we’re optimistic,” Rios, who went 2-for-4, said in a televised interview. “When we play for our country a lot of good things happen. We’ve come a long way and there’s no way we’re going to stop.”
Japan won the first two WBC titles in 2006 and 2010. After last night’s game, the Japanese players lined up along the third base line, removed their hats and bowed to the Puerto Rican team and the fans at AT&T Park.
Japan had been held scoreless until Takashi Toritani hit a one-out triple in the bottom of the eighth inning and scored on a single by Hirokazu Ibata. Japan, playing without any current major-leaguers, also had a base-running mistake in the inning. With two runners on base and Japan’s cleanup hitter at bat, Seiichi Uchikawa broke from first base on a double steal while Ibata started to run and then retreated to second base. Uchikawa was caught between first and second base and tagged out by Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina.
Aviles said he’d “love to play” the Dominican Republic for the championship after the Puerto Ricans lost the teams’ meetings in the first and second rounds.