For the first time in the brief history of the World Baseball Classic, Japan will not be crowned champions.
Puerto Rico used pitching, defense and just enough hitting to scratch out a 3-1 win over the two-time defending champs Sunday at AT&T Park.
Puerto Rico starter Mario Santiago held Japan scoreless for 4 1/3 innings before departing with forearm tightness, but five different relievers came out of the bullpen and picked up right where he left off, and a two-run homer by Alex Rios was the difference.
This will be Puerto Rico’s first trip to the WBC final, as they now await the winner of today’s game between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic.
Japan starter Kenta Maeda got in trouble from the start, walking two batters in the first inning to set up an RBI single by shortstop Mike Aviles. Rios’s blast in the seventh inning off reliever Atsuchi Nohmi was his first of the tournament.
The rest came down to a whole lot of ground balls by Japan, highlighted by two diving stops by Puerto Rico second baseman Irving Falu. Japan scored its only run in the eighth inning when Takahashin Toritani fired one into Triples Alley just beyond the reach of Giants center fielder Angel Pagan and scored on a single by Hirokazu Ibata.
Seiichi Uchikawa followed with a single of his own, but got caught heading to second on a double steal when Ibata did not move from second. Yadier Molina chased Uchikawa down for the second out of the inning, and Japan’s best rally fell short when Shinnosuke Abe grounded out to second.
Japan — which had averaged more than seven runs per game in the first two rounds — managed only six hits while striking out six times. Puerto Rico finished fifth in both the 2006 and 2009 tournaments.
Japan’s exit means the eventual champion will include a player from the Giants organization, with Pagan on the Puerto Rico roster, Santiago Casilla pitching for the Dominican Republic and Giants hitting coach Hensley Muelens managing the Netherlands.
NOTES: Pagan, playing at AT&T Park for the first time since Game 2 of the World Series, went 2-for-5. He and former Giant Carlos Beltran drew loud cheers from the San Francisco fans when they were introduced before the game.
The Netherlands has a tall task ahead of itself if it wants to face Puerto Rico in Tuesday’s World Baseball Classic championship.
The Dutch squad, led by Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens, must do today what no other team in this tournament has been able to do so far: beat a Dominican Republic team that is stacked with major league All-Stars.
Leading up to the game, many of the Dominicans have brought up their two losses to the Netherlands in the 2009 tournament, and may be looking for a little payback, though Meulens said it would be a stretch to call this a rematch.
“It’s four years that have passed,” he said. “We have grown so much since then. We have gotten better in my opinion. ... We have more youth on our team, more talent than four years ago.”
San Diego Padres right-hander Edinson Volquez will start for the Dominican Republic, while Diegomar Markwell will take the mound for the Netherlands.