SAN DIEGO — In the end, it came down to Puerto Rico’s Edwin Diaz striking out Team USA’s Josh Harrison to leave the tying run at third base.
And so Team Puerto Rico is on their way up the I-5 freeway to Dodger Stadium, while Team USA finds themselves in a win-or-go-back-to-training camps showdown against the Dominican Republic here Saturday night.
Danny Duffy and Ervin Santana will be the starting pitchers in Pool F’s finale — a quick and crucial turnaround for Team USA after a 6-5 loss to Puerto Rico filled with so many riveting twists and turns along the way before 32,463 fans at Petco Park. First, the preview; then the recap:
The Showdown: Last Saturday in Miami, it was 7-5 Dominican Republic, overcoming a 5-0 Team USA lead. You knew then that this rematch was coming in round two. Now, we know it’s for a trip to the semifinals.
“They’re a terrific team; like a dream team,’’ Team USA outfielder Adam Jones said about the Dominican Republic. “You have guys on their side — (Adrian) Beltran, (Jose) Bautista, (Nelson) Cruz, (Robinson) Cano — in their mid-late-30s who still are passionate for the game and their country, and it’s beautiful to see. You see it when they are all together.’’
And it’s a ready-or-not situation for both sides, given the expected intensity of a game being played in mid-March — when position players normally still are looking at two or three at-bats, and starting pitchers are maxing out at about five innings. No wonder team executives worry so much about the WBC’s potential affects on players.
“It’s not the easiest thing, but we are professionals,’’ Jones said. “You know what you have to bring. You know what you have to do. You have to get yourself ready a little earlier (in the offseason).
“I’m playing nine innings (in each tournament game). At this point in spring training, I haven’t done that in a long time. The emotions are different, too. These guys are amped up. It’s go-time. It feels like you’re in October now.’’
The winner will face Japan on Monday in Dodger Stadium, while Puerto Rico and Team Netherlands will meet in the other semifinal on Tuesday.
Risky business: Brandon Crawford saw the play in front of him, and he thought it was worth the chance. He had just smoked a two-RBI drive the opposite way to pull Team USA to within one run by sitting on a mid-90s fastball from Puerto Rican closer Edwin Diaz — and later saying, “he’s throwing 97-98 mph, so you kind of have to.’’
And then Crawford saw former Giants teammate Angel Pagan having problems with the carom off the wall, so Crawford made his way to third base, narrowly beating the tag in the view of umpire Edgar Estivision — although replays may have showed otherwise.
“He called me safe, so…,’’ Crawford said. “I had a good view of it, and I saw Pagan not pick it up clean, so that’s when I made my decision to try to go to third. (Diaz) had thrown a wild pitch in that inning already, so if you get to third base, you have a better chance to tie the game. So I thought it was worth the risk.’’
But Crawford stayed there, as Diaz got Harrison for his third strikeout of the inning.
A first inning to forget: Here’s how quickly Puerto Rico jumped to a 4-0 lead against Team USA’s Marcus Stroman: Six batters, six singles — some hit harder than others — and a sacrifice fly. And Puerto Rico never trailed after that.
- Angel Pagan grounded a single into right field.
- Francisco Lindor smashed a sharp groundball single past Stroman into center field.
- Carlos Correa went the other way with an RBI groundball single to right.
- Carlos Beltran lined another RBI single to center field.
- Yadier Molina fought off a pitch and pushed a single to right for the third run.
- And Javier Baez blooped one that falls into left-center in front of Eddie Rosario’s sacrifice fly.
All this after Stroman impressively threw 4.2 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic last Saturday in Miami.
“I think (Stroman) was just leaving the ball up a little bit,’’ Brandon Crawford said. “It’s not like they were tearing the ball off the cover or anything. There were a couple of line drives, but other than that, they hit a couple of ground balls that found holes. They definitely battled. They got some big two-strike hits. He didn’t look bad at all.’’
And just as quickly, Stroman got good — as in retiring 11 of the next 12 hitters he faced into the fifth inning, getting six ground ball outs and two strikeouts along the way.
“I thought they gave Marcus some really good, tough at-bats in the first inning,’’ Team USA manager Jim Leyland said. “He made some good pitches. They hit a couple of balls decent. A couple of balls, they did a great job of hitting. (After that), I don’t think he did a whole lot different.’’
Arenado’s error: Nolan Arenado has a Gold Glove from each of his four seasons in the major leagues. Scouts have compared him favorably to Brooks Robinson. But at the worst time in a critical game on Friday night, a tough hop got the better of the Rockies star.
USA reliever Andrew Miller was about to pitch out of a two-on, no-out jam in the sixth inning in relief of Mychal Givens, getting the routine-looking groundball off Angel Pagan’s bat.
But the ball hit edge of the infield grass and bounded high. Arenado recovered in time to grab it, but with his footwork thrown off, his throw to first skidded past Eric Hosmer for a costly two-run error that gave Puerto Rico a 6-3 lead.
Arenado explained it this way: “Tough hop. The hop kinda made me rush a little bit. I thought to myself I had to make a good throw, but I rushed it. At the end of the day, it’s unacceptable.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself to make that play. It was an unfortunate error. It kind of cost us the game. I just have to make a better throw there. I make that play nine out of 10 times. But today wasn’t my time.’’
The running game: Arenado’s error was so costly in part because of Puerto Rico’s aggressive base-running earlier in the inning. Javier Baez, who was hit by a Mychal Givens pitch to start the inning, stole second base on the Givens-Buster Posey combination on the 2-0 pitch.
After Givens threw another ball to run the count to 3-0 on Eddie Rosario, USA manager Jim Leyland brought in Andrew Miller, with a couple of thoughts in mind:
“I figured their guy would be taking,’’ Leyland said. “If (Miller) could get strike one, he would be a tough guy to bunt. Maybe then he gets a strikeout there.’’
Instead, Rosario walked, and with pinch-hitter Enrique Hernandez batting, Baez and Rosario pulled off a double steal to put runners at second and third in front of Arenado’s error.
“We know they’re going to be aggressive,’’ Leyland said. “They’ve got some guys who can run. They know how to run the bases a little bit. That wasn’t a surprise. We knew they might try anything, and they did.
“We still had a great shot to get out of (the inning), but it didn’t work out.’’
Little controversy: Once again, home-plate umpire Will Little’s expansive strike zone came into question. And once again, Little quickly ejected his questioner.
This time, Andrew McCutchen was called out on strikes to start the top of the sixth — even though television replay showed the pitch to be a bit low and away.
In Tuesday’s Pool F opener, Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena charged out to question Little in the eighth inning, going so far as to repeatedly gesture to his shins, as Little called a handful of pitches at that level strikes.
Giancarlo Stanton replaced McCutchen in right field in the bottom of the inning.
Hometown hero: San Diego native Adam Jones hit his second homer in as many WBC games at Petco Park— a 365-foot blast to left-center field off Puerto Rico’s Seth Lugo in the sixth inning. That cut the USA deficit to one run (4-3) at the time, but they never got any closer.
Jones hit a more-important homer in Team USA’s opener on Wednesday — a game-tying, leadoff shot in the eighth inning against Venezuela’s Hector Rondon. Three batters later, Eric Hosmer hit a two-run, game-deciding shot off Rondon.
Jones is relishing the opportunity to play this WBC pool round here after also being a part of the 2013 Team USA squad.
“Everybody understands why I’m here,’’ Jones said. “It’s not really to party and hang out (with family and friends). I’m here to win games with these boys on Team USA.’’
Jones also came up with a social media-savvy approach to handling ticket requests.
“Well, we got an allotment of four tickets,’’ Jones said. “I did something smart, and my mom always tells me to put it on Facebook. I copy-and-pasted the link, and told people: “This is where you get your tickets. Put your credit card down. This is where it’s at. It’s cut and dry.
“And I said if you want to come out and support me, this is the way to come out and support me.’’