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MIAMI: Puerto Rico jumped out to a 4-0 lead and held on to upset the United States 4-3 to reach the semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic and eliminate the heavily favoured losers in Miami yesterday.
A brilliant starting performance by major league journeyman Nelson Figueroa held Team USA down for six scoreless innings. The Americans chipped away at the Puerto Rican bullpen with a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth but fell short.
J C Romero, who pitched 14 seasons in the major leagues, retired the US team in order in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the win, raising his arms to the heavens after center-fielder Angel Pagan caught Jimmy Rollins’ fly ball to end it.
Romero was tackled to the ground by team mates and was buried under a celebration pile as Puerto Rico reached the final round of the elite, 16-team tournament for the first time.
“This is a dream,” said third baseman Andy Gonzalez, who drove in two runs with a two-out, bases-loaded double in the sixth inning off reliever Vinnie Pestano that made it 4-0.
“I bet you the whole island is going crazy right now.”
Figueroa, who pitched nine major league seasons for six different teams, did not allow a hit for the first three innings and yielded just two hits in six innings for the win.
“Just throw strikes, get ahead of hitters and have faith in Yady,” said 38-year-old Figueroa, who pitched with precision and guile and gave much of the credit to his catcher, Yadier Molina.
“We had a plan from the beginning. We stuck to that plan, attacking the hitters,” he said. “The second time around they were more aggressive and helped me out with my pitch count and that allowed me to go through six innings and help this team.”
The semi-finals are on Sunday and Monday with the title game on Tuesday.
Puerto Rico will play the Dominican Republic today in Miami to determine the seeding from Pool 2 before heading to the West Coast. REUTERS