In the first of two semifinal games at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Puerto Rico defeated Japan by a score of 3-1. Puerto Rico now moves on to the championship game, while Japan has been eliminated from the WBC.
Mario Santiago was marvelous for Puerto Rico, pitching 4.1 scoreless innings. Alex Rios and Mike Aviles, meanwhile, managed to bring in the run support which eventually led to a W.
As for Japan, Kenta Maeda was the losing pitcher despite allowing just one run in 5.0 innings.
Puerto Rico will now play the winner of the other semifinal game between the Dominican Republic and an upstart Netherlands squad. Japan, meanwhile, must go home empty-handed after dominating pool play.
So how did it all go down?
Overall Grade: A+
Position: Starting Pitcher
4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 SO
Mario Santiago was absolutely marvelous against a high-powered Japanese squad. He went 4.1 innings, held Japan without a run and allowed just two players to get on base.
As for how dominant he was, note that Santiago retired the first 10 batters he faced.
What may have been most impressive about Santiago's outing was that eight of the 13 outs he recorded came on ground balls. Two came on strikeouts, and Santiago limited Japan to zero extra-base hits.
Pure and utter dominance.
It all started with the first batter Santiago faced. After falling behind in the count at 3-1, Santiago managed to fight back and make it a full count.
One pitch later, he recorded the first of 10 consecutive outs—a dominant performance.
Overall Grade: B
Position: Starting Pitcher
5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 SO, 2 BB
During the first inning, Kenta Maeda walked two batters and allowed an RBI single. As a result, Puerto Rico went up 1-0 and Maeda ended the game as the losing pitcher.
Just don't let that convince you that this was anything short of a quality outing.
After the first inning, Maeda was excellent. He struck out two batters over the following four innings and induced two double plays.
More importantly, Maeda held Puerto Rico scoreless.
Maeda's opening-inning blunder is what will be remembered about his outing. When it comes to his overall game, however, Maeda put on a quality performance.
Any form of run support would have boosted the perception of his outing.
Overall Grade: A
2-for-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
Cleveland Indians infielder Mike Aviles started at shortstop for Puerto Rico. The man who made that decision deserves an A+.
Aviles was absolutely sensational. He drove in the game's first run on a first-inning single and later scored on an Alex Rios home run.
With two outs in the first, the Puerto Ricans had yet to register a hit. Aviles stepped in, took a ball from Kenta Maeda and cracked the next pitch he saw into center field.
Irving Falu rounded the bases and came in to make it 1-0.
For the next six innings, Puerto Rico was held scoreless. Players struggled to get on base, and when they did, they were stifled before they could cross home plate.
Down 0-2 against Atsushi Nomi, however, Aviles fought off a strikeout pitch and dropped one into right field. One batter later, Aviles scored on a homer from Rios.
For good measure, Aviles managed to earn a walk during a marvelous nine-pitch at-bat in the top of the eighth.
Overall Grade: B+
Position: Designated Hitter
On an evening in which Japan struggled to generate any form of offense, Hirokazu Ibata generated two basehits and an RBI.
The limited offensive output by his team makes Ibata's evening all the more impressive —especially considering how clutch a hit it was.
Entering the bottom of the eighth inning, Japan was trailing 3-0. The team was down to its final six outs and had recorded just three hits through seven 7.1 innings.
After a Nobuhiro Matsuda triple, Ibata stepped up with an opportunity to breathe life into Japan's WBC dreams. After falling down 0-2, Ibata took a ball.
On the following pitch, Ibata sent a ball into right field and drove in Japan's only run.
Overall Grade: A+
Position: Right Fielder
2-for-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, SO
Alex Rios may not be a pitcher, but he was Puerto Rico's closer during its game against the favored Japanese squad.
Rios struggled early, as Japan managed to force him into a groundout and strikeout during his first two at-bats. After his lack of success, it was fair to write Rios off as a non-factor.
Fortunately, Rios turned it around in a major way.
Mike Aviles led off the top of the seventh inning with a single to right field. Rios fell behind 1-1 in the count against Atsushi Nomi, then opened this game right up.
Rios took the next pitch he saw 394 feet over the left-field wall. In turn, he put Puerto Rico up 3-0 with just nine outs remaining for Japan.
One inning later, Rios nearly drove in another run with a single to center, but Carlos Beltran failed to score. Even still, the outfielder made a statement.