wbc09

The Puer­to Rican team advanced to Round 2 of the World Base­ball Clas­sic to face the USA team on sat­ur­day March 14, after defeat­ing the team from Pana­ma and the team from Ned­er­lands two games. This Nerder­lands team is the same team that elim­i­nat­ed the team from The Domini­can Repub­lic by beat­ing them two games. The Pueto Rican team Had a record of 3–0 in the first Round to be top seed in this sec­ond round.

That Team Puer­to Rico used its home-field advan­tage as well as its stock­pile of Major League tal­ent to advance to the sec­ond round of the World Base­ball Clas­sic sur­prised no one.

Doing it with­out hav­ing to mess with that pesky Caribbean neigh­bor, the Domini­can Repub­lic, now that might have sur­prised a few. Dit­to for clinch­ing Pool D with a sec­ond win over run­ner-up … the Nether­lands?

What­ev­er hap­pened around them, Puer­to Rico’s play­ers were clear­ly con­fi­dent home would only lead them some­where else they’d want to be: Mia­mi, for the sec­ond round of the Clas­sic, start­ing Sat­ur­day with a matchup against Team USA.

Get­ting there might have been more than half the fun, because Puer­to Rico — with its fans rock­ing the house every night — made the most pos­si­ble out of its three-game sweep at Hiram Bithorn Sta­di­um.

With super­star Pudge Rodriguez set­ting the tone with a huge game in the open­er against Pana­ma — 4-for-4 with two homers — this was a team on a mis­sion to make a spe­cial week in San Juan that much more spe­cial.

They did that. Now, that’s in the past.

“There is anoth­er round that we have to go to, and we have to work hard there and do what we did here to try to move for­ward,” Rodriguez said.

With a three-game sweep complete in Round 1, Javier Vazquez will be rested and ready to open Round 2 for Team Puerto Rico against Team USA. (Getty Images)

With a three-game sweep com­plete in Round 1, Javier Vazquez will be rest­ed and ready to open Round 2 for Team Puer­to Rico against Team USA. (Get­ty Images)

Every­thing went accord­ing to plan for Puer­to Rico, and that means Javier Vazquez is avail­able to pitch the sec­ond-round open­er against the U.S. on ample rest, and it means the bullpen will be fresh and the team as a whole healthy head­ing to Mia­mi.

While Puer­to Rico boasts a hearty offense with Rodriguez, Mets star first base­man Car­los Del­ga­do, Car­los Bel­tran, Alex Rios and clutch catch­er Yadier Moli­na, each one of them would have to agree it wasn’t offense that made the home fires burn in San Juan.

It was the pitch­ing staff, which allowed just one run (earned) over 27 innings while strik­ing out 28 and walk­ing just eight.

“Some­thing we have to do is give a lot of cred­it to our [pitch­ing],” said Del­ga­do. “In three games, we only had one run against us. And before that, there was talk about bat­ting, bat­ting, bat­ting, but pitch­ing is what loaded us.

“From the point of view of the offense, we had to look for a way to make adjust­ments, because we can do a bet­ter job, espe­cial­ly in sit­u­a­tions with bat­ters on bases. Those are the runs that we are going to need. There is space to improve. The impor­tant thing is that we did qual­i­fy in first place and we’re going to Mia­mi, and we’re going to keep on play­ing hard.”

Cer­tain­ly, they’ve giv­en them­selves a hard act to fol­low with three wins and dra­ma to the nines.

Moli­na, for instance, ranks his dou­ble in the eighth inning of Monday’s dra­mat­ic win over the Nether­lands not only right up there with his homer in the 2006 play­offs, but a notch above it — in his heart, at least.

“I would like to say I think this here in front of you peo­ple and in front of my fam­i­ly,” Moli­na said, “it’s one of the great­est moments of my life. Def­i­nite­ly I would pick here. The dou­ble that I hit [Mon­day] is going to be in my heart all my life.”

So as Team Puer­to Rico heads for its Clas­sic future, there’s not much more it could have asked from the first round: A home sweep in front of a crowd that matched its own inten­si­ty.

“I think this is a great event for Puer­to Rico,” said Del­ga­do. “For the last few years we haven’t pro­duced as many play­ers as some of the oth­er Latin coun­tries. As a Puer­to Rican, we don’t like that. We like to see our game con­tin­ue to grow.

“This is our pas­sion. This is the game that we love. And the rea­son why we say we love it and we con­tin­ue to push it and encour­age young play­ers to con­tin­ue to play is because of events like this.”

John Schlegel is a nation­al reporter for MLB.com. This sto­ry was not sub­ject to the approval of Major League Base­ball or its clubs.