Puerto Rico's run of dominance at the 2017 World Baseball Classic continued on Friday with a thrilling 6-5 victory over the United States.
The win moves Puerto Rico's overall record in the tournament to 5-0 and gives the team a spot in the semifinals against the Netherlands.
The Puerto Rican team wasted no time getting started, scoring four runs off Team USA starter Marcus Stroman. The first six batters all singled off the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander.
Coming into Friday, USA starting pitchers had not allowed an earned run in 17.1 innings over four games. Stroman was able to settle down after that opening frame, allowing just two hits over the next 3.2 innings before reaching his pitch-count limit.
Team USA tried to chip away at the lead, scoring individual runs in the second, fifth and sixth innings. Buster Posey showed off his power with this solo home run over the left field fence, via WBC Baseball:
Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo pitched well enough to keep his team on top. The right-hander scattered five hits over 5.2 innings, allowing three runs with two strikeouts and one walk. He also set the tone during that first inning, as noted by Anthony DiComo of MLB.com:
When Lugo left, Puerto Rico was clinging to a 4-3 lead. The late innings have been catnip for Team USA, which scored all four of its runs against Venezuela on Wednesday after the sixth inning.
United States manager Jim Leyland didn't do a good job navigating things in the bottom half of the sixth inning to give his team a chance to tie things up.
Mychal Givens started the frame after recording the final out of the fifth, but he hit Javier Baez with a pitch on a 2-2 count. After Eddie Rosario started his at-bat with three straight balls, Leyland opted to pull the right-hander in favor of Andrew Miller.
Miller's first pitch was a ball to put Rosario on first. The Cleveland Indians left-hander would strike out T.J. Rivera and, after Baez stole third, Enrique Hernandez to get within one out of escaping the jam.
Angel Pagan hit a chopper to third base that took a funny hop on Nolan Arenado, whose throw to first bounced under the glove of Eric Hosmer to score two unearned runs and extend Puerto Rico's lead to 6-3.
Chris Cwik of Big League Stew had a pointed tweet before the game that became relevant on that particular play:
Fielding metrics show Paul Goldschmidt to be a superior defensive player. He was credited with four defensive runs saved last season, compared to Hosmer costing the Kansas City Royals six runs, per FanGraphs.
It wasn't an easy play for Hosmer to make because the throw from Arenado was bad, but this wasn't Leyland's best defensive team on the field.
Baez was sensational in this game. The Chicago Cubs star went 1-for-3 with three stolen bases and one run scored.
Things would get interesting in the top of the ninth inning, as Arenado walked and Hosmer singled to bring the tying run up with no outs. Puerto Rico's closer struck out Posey and Goldschmidt before giving up a two-run triple to Brandon Crawford that cut the deficit to 6-5.
Crawford appeared to be out on the play at third, but the umpire ruled he was safe. There are no umpire challenges in the World Baseball Classic until the semifinals, so this could have been disastrous for Puerto Rico.
Diaz settled down to strike out Josh Harrison for the final out and send Puerto Rico into the semis.
While things remain great for Puerto Rico at the WBC, Team USA will have to defeat the Dominican Republic on Saturday to earn the second spot from Pool F in the semifinals.
The Dominicans defeated Team USA 7-5 on March 11 after trailing by five runs. The stakes will be higher this time around, with the winner earning a trip to Los Angeles next week.
Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran provided their unique viewpoints on Puerto Rico's run in the WBC to this point, with one being a newbie to the event and one a returning star, via the MLB Players Association on Twitter:
For Team USA, Stroman didn't get too down on things despite his rough outing and the final outcome because there's one more game to play.
"Bounce back," he wrote on Twitter. "On to the next one with the squad!"
Leyland was effusive in describing what he saw from the Puerto Rican team after the game.
"They play the game right," Leyland said, via Jack Magruder of FanRag Sports. "They play a combination of big ball and small ball, and you tip your hat to them."