Round 1, Pool C, Game 4 | Sat, Mar 9

PUR 6, VEN 3

SAN JUAN, Puer­to Rico — When the World Base­ball Clas­sic was cre­at­ed, it’s like­ly Major League Base­ball had Sat­ur­day night’s Puer­to Rico-Venezuela game in mind.

A packed house of 18,741 at Hiram Bithorn Sta­di­um was charged from the out­set, cheer­ing, chant­i­ng and buzzing from the first pitch to final out as Puer­to Rico beat Venezuela, 6–3.

The win guar­an­teed spots in Round 2 for both Puer­to Rico and the Domini­can Repub­lic, which beat Spain, 6–3, ear­li­er on Sat­ur­day. Venezuela and Spain, both 0–2, were offi­cial­ly elim­i­nat­ed, and Puer­to Rico advanced for the third straight World Base­ball Classic.

“I think Venezuela has a great team, and obvi­ous­ly their ros­ter is basi­cal­ly all big lea­guers,” Puer­to Rico’s Car­los Bel­tran said. “But we are not sur­prised with the vic­to­ry. Maybe some of fans were because they think base­ball is char­ac­ter­ized by the ros­ter, and it’s real­ly not so. Base­ball is char­ac­ter­ized when you go out onto the base­ball field. The best one that plays wins, and we did a great job.”

For Venezuela, a team many felt would advance with the Domini­cans from this Pool C, the end result can be seen as noth­ing less than a bit­ter disappointment.

“It’s extreme­ly dis­ap­point­ing,” Venezue­lan man­ag­er Luis Sojo said. “This was not in the plan. But the real­i­ty is we’re out of the tour­na­ment. This is the most painful [World Base­ball Clas­sic expe­ri­ence]. I thought we had a great ball­club. Venezuela is demand­ing some tri­umph. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, things did­n’t come out as we want­ed, but we have to move forward.”

The vic­to­ry ren­ders Sun­day’s games with­out much on the line, though the sec­ond con­test between Puer­to Rico and the Domini­can Repub­lic will deter­mine seed­ing for the two clubs in Miami’s sec­ond round. The run­ner-up from Pool C will open against the Pool D win­ner com­ing from Arizona.

Both starters were crisp at the out­set. Puer­to Rico’s Nel­son Figueroa allowed just one hit, to Miguel Cabr­era, over the first two innings. Car­los Zam­bra­no went three per­fect frames to open things for Venezuela, while the Venezue­lan offense got to Figueroa in the bot­tom of the third.

Omar Infante got it start­ed with a one-out dou­ble, com­ing around to score on a Mar­co Scu­taro sin­gle. After Asdrubal Cabr­era was hit by a pitch, Figueroa actu­al­ly got Miguel Cabr­era to pop out to short, but then allowed a dou­ble to Pablo San­doval. That allowed Scu­taro to score, but Cabr­era was thrown out at third to end the inning.

In the fourth, Zam­bra­no unrav­eled. Angel Pagan led off the inning with a dou­ble, Puer­to Rico’s first baserun­ner, but he was erased when first base­man Miguel Cabr­era nabbed Irv­ing Falu’s grounder, catch­ing Pagan in a run­down at third. Alex Rios walked, and when Zam­bra­no uncorked a wild pitch, both run­ners advanced. Bel­tran was­n’t able to take advan­tage, tap­ping out to third, but not before Zam­bra­no got steamed after a very close pitch that umpire Ed Hick­ox felt missed the plate.

When Yadier Moli­na worked out a walk, Zam­bra­no had reached his pitch lim­it. Enrique Gon­za­lez came in and gave up a two-run sin­gle to Mike Aviles, which knot­ted the score at 2, but the threat end­ed when Moli­na was thrown out at third.

Figueroa bounced back to put a zero on the board in the fourth, end­ing his night. Puer­to Rico thanked him with a go-ahead run in the fifth when Pagan, who went 3‑for‑5, sin­gled home Mar­tin Mal­don­a­do to give Puer­to Rico a 3–2 lead.

Puer­to Rico tacked on insur­ance runs in the eighth. Aviles drove in his third run of the game with a sac­ri­fice fly that brought home Rios. Then with two outs, Hiram Bithorn erupt­ed when pinch-hit­ter Luis Figueroa drove Fran­cis­co Rodriguez’s offer­ing into the right-field cor­ner to plate two.

“This moment is very, very spe­cial to me,” said Figueroa, a 39-year-old, 16-year pro­fes­sion­al, who last saw big league time with the Giants in 2007. “At my age, not every­body has this oppor­tu­ni­ty. It’s the best moment of my career.”

That was not lost on his team­mates, who jumped out of the dugout to con­grat­u­late the man every­one calls “Wicho,” for the hit that cement­ed Puer­to Rico’s place in the next round.

“I believe that the most impor­tant moment today was the moment [of] Wicho’s dou­ble to right field,” Bel­tran said. “It’s going to be his biggest hit in his career as a ballplay­er. We came out onto the field to con­grat­u­late him, and we were very hap­py with this vic­to­ry, but we were hap­py for him because he’s a ballplay­er who has strug­gled a lot in his career.”

Every pitch, every play, every out had the capac­i­ty crowd — not to men­tion the play­ers — on the edge of its col­lec­tive seat. Venezue­la’s Car­los Gon­za­lez slammed his hel­met down in dis­gust when he was called out on a very close play in the sixth with one out and a run­ner on first. Sojo came out to argue, to no avail, and Puer­to Rican lefty Gio­van­ni Soto calm­ly got Sal­vador Perez to bounced out to sec­ond to end the inning. Soto was ter­rif­ic in relief of Nel­son Figueroa, toss­ing three hit­less innings, walk­ing two and strik­ing out two.

“Gio­van­ni Soto’s job, that guy, he impress­es me,” Puer­to Rico man­ag­er Edwin Rodriguez said. “The line­up that he faced, the best hit­ters not only in the Clas­sic, the best hit­ters in base­ball, and he held on and he kept the lead. Gio­van­ni Soto’s relief was key.”

The crowd roared in the sev­enth when Rios made a slid­ing catch on the right-field line after a long run on Infan­te’s fly ball for the sec­ond out of the inning with a run­ner aboard, and it was whipped into a fren­zy when Eddie Rosario ran down Scu­taro’s dri­ve to deep left to end the inning. The fren­zy con­tin­ued until the final out, seal­ing Puer­to Rico’s trip to Miami.

“I think that base­ball in Puer­to Rico com­pared to maybe 10 years ago is now in a cri­sis, so to speak, of amount of play­ers, not qual­i­ty, quan­ti­ty,” Rodriguez said. “But I believe that this kind of tour­na­ment, this kind of Clas­sic moti­vates play­ers, and these two gen­tle­men [Bel­tran and Pagan] that I have here with me know the com­mit­ment. They know what it means not only for base­ball but for the Puer­to Rican soci­ety. And I believe that this kind of Clas­sic gives a chance and gives a win­dow for guys like this to con­tribute pos­i­tive­ly to soci­ety and that young gen­er­a­tion that is growing. ”

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for and writes a blog, B3. Fol­low @JonathanMayoB3 on Twit­ter. This sto­ry was not sub­ject to the approval of Major League Base­ball or its clubs.