Round 2, Pool 2, Game 3 | Wed, Mar 13

PUR 4, ITA 3

MIAMI — Team Puer­to Rico sur­vived the hard way on Wednes­day night.

On the brink of elim­i­na­tion, Puer­to Rico ral­lied with three runs in the eighth inning to defeat Italy, 4–3, in front of 25,787 at Mar­lins Park.

Puer­to Rico was four outs away from exit­ing the World Base­ball Clas­sic but man­aged to pre­vail, tying the game on pinch-hit­ter Luis Figueroa’s sac­ri­fice fly and going ahead on Andy Gon­za­lez’s infield single.

“With the line­up that we have, it was a mat­ter of time before we start­ed scor­ing runs,” Puer­to Rico man­ag­er Edwin Rodriguez said. “Of course, every­body was kind of putting a lit­tle bit of pres­sure on them­selves. So the staff has to fake it and try to make it look like we’re all calm and every­thing was under con­trol. I think we did a good job of doing that. The guys went out there, and they made that happen.”

Italy was elim­i­nat­ed from Round 2 in ago­niz­ing fash­ion. The Ital­ians had a three-run lead slip away on Wednes­day, after see­ing a four-run lead dis­ap­pear in a 5–4 loss to the Domini­can Repub­lic on Tuesday.

The Ital­ians grabbed the lead in the fifth inning on Antho­ny Riz­zo’s three-run double.

Now that Italy’s jour­ney has end­ed, Riz­zo, a Fort Laud­erdale, Fla., native and the Cubs’ first base­man, is glad he was part of the sur­pris­ing run.

“We had a lead in every game we played in this tour­na­ment,” Riz­zo said. “No one script­ed us to be where we are, play­ing against the best teams. There’s a hand­ful of All-Stars on every team and we had the lead in every game. We all stayed togeth­er, and I think the respect that we earned in this tour­na­ment is well-deserved for the entire coun­try of Italy.”

Puer­to Rico, now 1–1 in Round 2, still is in a must-win sit­u­a­tion. But it moves on to Fri­day and awaits the los­er of Thurs­day’s Team USA-Domini­can Repub­lic game.

While Puer­to Rico is wait­ing to see who it will play, it has announced Nel­son Figueroa will be the start­ing pitcher.

In its emo­tion­al come­back, Puer­to Rico did all the things nec­es­sary to pre­vail in the tournament.

“That’s how you win the World Series,” catch­er Yadier Moli­na said. “By play­ing as a team. Pitch­ing as a team. Hit­ting as a team and play­ing defense as a team. That’s what we did today.”

All the traits were need­ed to close out a tight­ly played game. Hiram Bur­gos threw 3 23 innings of score­less relief, includ­ing two strike­outs in the ninth inning. With one on, Fer­nan­do Cabr­era record­ed a one-out save.

Con­sid­ered the team least like­ly to suc­ceed in Round 2, Italy was scrap­py but end­ed up not being able to hold late-inning leads.

Car­los Bel­tran got the eighth-inning ral­ly going for Puer­to Rico with a walk. Moli­na’s sin­gle put run­ners on the cor­ners. A field­er’s choice ground­out by Mike Aviles scored Moli­na, mak­ing it a 3–2 game. Alex Rios’ sin­gle put run­ners on the cor­ners with one out.

Bri­an Sweeney relieved Pat Ven­ditte, and Puer­to Rico brought in Figueroa to pinch-hit. His sac­ri­fice fly to cen­ter tied the game. On the play, cen­ter field­er Chris Denor­fia threw home, which allowed Rios to take second.

Get­ting into scor­ing posi­tion was huge.

Gon­za­lez tapped a grounder in the hole that was field­ed on the back­hand by short­stop Jack San­to­ra. His throw across the dia­mond hopped, and Riz­zo was unable to hold on. Rios scored from sec­ond on the play, and Puer­to Rico’s bench was in full celebration.

“I saw [Rios] round­ing,” Riz­zo said. “I fig­ured if I can pick that — it was going to be a tough hop. I was­n’t sure if I’d be able to stay on the bag, so if I could pick it, I’d be able to throw him out.”

For Italy, it was a tough way to go home.

Each start­ing pitch­er has spent time in Japan, and both were effective.

Puer­to Rico starter Gian­car­lo Alvara­do, who pitched in the win­ter leagues in the off­sea­son, has spent the past three sea­sons in Japan.

Italy coun­tered with right-han­der Alessan­dro Maestri, who also pitched last sea­son in Japan.

In the fifth inning, the Ital­ians snapped the dead­lock on Riz­zo’s three-run double.

Antho­ny Grana­to start­ed the ral­ly with a one-out sin­gle, and Nick Pun­to was award­ed first on catcher’s inter­fer­ence. Moli­na was charged with the error when his glove was clipped on Pun­to’s swing. Denor­fi­a’s sin­gle loaded the bases and end­ed Alvarado’s night.

Rodriguez played the per­cent­ages, bring­ing in lefty Xavier Cede­no to face the left-hand­ed-hit­ting Rizzo.

Riz­zo bat­ted .208 in 2012 against south­paws for the Cubs, com­pared with .318 while fac­ing right-handers.

Those splits were ren­dered mean­ing­less, as Riz­zo ripped a lin­er into the gap in right-cen­ter, clear­ing the bases.

In the sixth inning, Puer­to Rico cap­i­tal­ized on two errors by Grana­to at short­stop and made it 3–1. Moli­na sin­gled and Aviles reached on an error. With two outs, Grana­to boot­ed Car­los River­a’s grounder for his sec­ond error, which scored Molina.

“You have to give cred­it to the Ital­ian team because they have one heck of a team,” Moli­na said. “But what we came with, the work of Hiram, of Gian­car­lo, all the [pitch­ers], we were able to win. We hope that on Fri­day it will be the same thing.”

Joe Fris­aro is a reporter for He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @JoeFrisaro. This sto­ry was not sub­ject to the approval of Major League Base­ball or its clubs.