With a spot in the World Baseball Classic semifinals on the line, Puerto Rico shut down the United States early and held on late for a shocking 4-3 win on Friday night.
38-year-old journeyman Nelson Figueroa completely baffled the Americans, holding them to just two hits and one walk through six scoreless innings, striking out two in the process.
Puerto Rico took the early lead in the first inning when Mike Aviles singled home Angel Pagan off starter Ryan Vogelsong.
The veteran settled down and went back and forth with Figueroa for the next several innings, but after walking Carlos Beltran in the sixth, Vogelsong was replaced by Vinnie Pestano, who quickly loaded the bases, walked Carlos Rivera and gave up a double to Andy Gonzalez, which stretched the deficit to 4-0.
Team USA would hardly fold over, though. It added a run in the seventh when Giancarlo Stanton roped a single into left to score Joe Mauer and then put together its most dangerous rally in the eighth.
After Ryan Braun doubled home Jimmy Rollins, Mauer walked to load the bases with one out. Stanton popped up, however, and after an RBI walk by Zobrist, Eric Hosmer grounded out to end the threat with Puerto Rico still leading, 4-3.
J.C. Romero finished things off for the four-out save, and Puerto Rico will now take on the Dominican Republic on Saturday afternoon, with the winner facing Netherlands and the loser drawing a matchup with Pool 1 champion Japan.
Team USA is now eliminated and has never won the WBC.
Nelson Figueroa, Puerto Rico: A
Figueroa, who posted an ERA of 8.69 in 2011 during his last major-league stint, was truly marvelous against the stacked American lineup.
He didn't overpower anyone, as evidenced by the two strikeouts, but the veteran painted the corners beautifully, kept the United States off balance and displayed gaudy command.
It was the game of his life.
Andy Gonzalez, Puerto Rico: B+
Gonzalez had just one hit in four at-bats on the night, but what an important hit it was.
The third baseman's bases-loaded, two-out, two-run double gave Puerto Rico some necessary breathing room and turned out to be the game-winning hit.
Vinnie Pestano, United States: F
Coming on with his team down by just one run and still very much in contention, Pestano simply has to do better.
He came on with one runner on and two outs, but proceeded to give up two walks and two hits without recording an out, thus busting the game open.
Jimmy Rollins, United States: A-
Leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins did just about everything he could to help propel his country to victory.
He was caught stealing by Yadier Molina in the sixth, but he made up for that with two singles, one run scored and several impressive defensive plays, including one marvelous sliding catch to keep things close in the top of the ninth.
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