Current champions stunned in semi-finals Puerto Rico progress.
Alex Rios blasted a two-run homer and Mike Aviles hit an RBI single as Puerto Rico upset two-time defending champion Japan 3-1 in the semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic on Sunday.
Aviles batted two-for-three and scored a run for Puerto Rico who advanced to their first World Baseball Classic final.
Starting pitcher Mario Santiago pitched 4 1/3 solid innings before he had to leave the game with an arm injury but he helped set the tone for Puerto Rico who were facing Japan on short rest. Puerto Rico played two games in less than 24 hours before travelling cross country for their semi-final.
Puerto Rico will face either the Dominican Republic or the Netherlands in Tuesday’s championship game.
This was their third game in as many days as they earned a spot in the final with a dynamic 4-3 win over the USA on Friday but they couldn’t carry that momentum over into Saturday, losing 2-0 to the Dominican Republic in Miami.
Japan hit eight homers in their first six games but they couldn’t generate much offence against Puerto Rico’s pitching staff on Sunday, finishing with just six hits and leaving 13 men on base in front of a crowd of 33,683 at AT&T park.
Japan won their first two World Baseball Classics with dominant pitching as ace Daisuke Matsuzaka was named tournament MVP in both 2006 and 2009.
This year’s team boasted no Major League Baseball talent as star players Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and Ichiro Suzuki all chose to skip the event.
Santiago struck out two, allowed no runs and just two hits. He was replaced by right hander Jose De La Torre after hurting his arm while trying to make a play at first base in the bottom of the fifth.
In the seventh, Rios belted a two-run homer off Japan pitcher Atsushi Nohmi into the left field seats to make it 3-0.
Rios fouled off his first pitch then took a ball before hammering a changeup over the fence to score Aviles who reached base earlier with a single.
Japan starting pitcher Kenta Maeda pitched five innings, striking out three, walking two and surrendering four hits.
Maeda got off to a rocky start by walking two of the first three batters he faced. Aviles opened the scoring for Puerto Rico with an RBI single to drive home Irving Falu from second base after Falu got on with one of those walks.
Aviles’ RBI snapped a string of 10 scoreless innings for Maeda.
Maeda then gave up a single to the first Puerto Rico batter in the second inning, Carlos Rivera, which prompted Japanese manager Koji Yamamoto to activate the bullpen.
Maeda finally seemed to settle into the game in the fourth inning, throwing a steady mix of curveballs, sliders and fastballs. He struck out Rios to end the top half of the fourth for his second strikeout of the game.
Coming into Sunday’s game Maeda had led the Japanese pitching staff, striking out 15 over 10 innings.
Hirokazu Ibata hit an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth to get Japan’s lone run of the game. Ibata smacked a line drive to Puerto Rico right fielder Rios to score Takashi Toritani.
Seiichi Uchikawa then singled to right field to move Ibata over to second base.
But catcher Shinnosuke Abe then grounded out to the infield for the third out leaving Ibata and Uchikawa stranded on the bases.