Round 1, Pool C, Game 2 | Fri, Mar 8

Final Score: PUR 3, ESP 0

SAN JUAN, Puer­to Rico — The game plan when play­ing as a favorite against a team that’s per­ceived to be an extreme under­dog is to knock the oppo­nent down ear­ly and not let them get back up, lest the under­dog feel it has a chance to climb back into the game.

Puer­to Rico got the first part right, scor­ing three first-inning runs against Spain in what looked like a game head­ed toward rout sta­tus. It did­n’t exact­ly put away Spain, though, not scor­ing any more after that nine-hit open­ing frame. For­tu­nate­ly for the home faith­ful at Hiram Bithorn Sta­di­um, the Span­ish offense could man­age to get just two run­ners into scor­ing posi­tion and the host team walked away with a 3–0 vic­to­ry in its first Pool C game.

“I think that we were the only ones who were not under­es­ti­mat­ing Spain, and they showed it tonight,” Puer­to Rico man­ag­er Edwin Rodriguez said. “Spain team is a good team. They have good pitch­ing, and they showed it tonight. I mean, every vic­to­ry for us is an impor­tant one. ”

The win improved Puer­to Rico’s World Base­ball Clas­sic record in its home ball­park to an impres­sive 8–2. This was the team’s fourth Clas­sic win a row at Hiram Bithorn.

Puer­to Rico did­n’t waste any time to put any thoughts of a Span­ish upset to rest, putting up three runs in its first time at bat. Angel Pagan led off with an infield sin­gle that glanced off start­ing pitch­er Ser­gio Perez’s glove, a sign of how things would go for Spain. Pagan came around to score on Car­los Bel­tran’s dou­ble. A Mike Aviles sac­ri­fice fly and a bases-loaded walk to No. 8 hit­ter Car­los Rivera gave Puer­to Rico its oth­er runs for the inning.

That proved to be more than enough for Gian­car­lo Alvara­do and the rest of the Puer­to Rican pitch­ing staff. Alvara­do tossed four very effi­cient innings, allow­ing just one hit — com­ing with two outs in the fourth — while walk­ing none and strik­ing out four. He induced six ground-ball outs dur­ing his outing.

“I would have loved to keep on and pitch the whole game, but … there’s a pitch lim­it, and I was able to help them out until then and do my job,” Alvara­do said. “And I’m more than hap­py. And thank God the oth­er pitch­ers also did a great job.”

Hiram Bur­gos fol­lowed Alvara­do and got knocked around, com­par­a­tive­ly, giv­ing up four hits in his 4 23 shutout innings. Spain’s first threat of any sort came in the sixth, when Gabriel Suarez and Engel Bel­tre led off the frame with sin­gles. A pop­up and a dou­ble play lat­er, and Bur­gos was trot­ting back to the dugout with anoth­er zero put up on the board.

Spain got two run­ners aboard again in the sev­enth, this time with one out. But though Bur­gos fell behind in the count, 3–1, to Jesus Mer­chan, he induced Spain’s third base­man to ground into an inning-end­ing 5−4−3 dou­ble play.

“It was excel­lent to score ear­ly in the game,” Bur­gos said. “The pitch­ers need­ed to keep the game close, and thank God we did what we had to do. We need to give thanks to the defense, and we got some good dou­ble plays, and they played good defense dur­ing the whole game. The pitch­ers and espe­cial­ly me, I just attacked the strike zone and let them put the ball in play, and put it on the defense, which is very good. ”

After Perez’s strug­gles for Spain — he would last just one bat­ter into the third — lefty Richard Salazar came in and shut the door. The south­paw con­found­ed Puer­to Rico’s offense with off­speed and break­ing stuff, throw­ing up five zeroes of his own and yield­ing just two hits in the process. In many ways, fol­low­ing that open­ing frame, Spain played even­ly with Puer­to Rico, show­ing it belongs in its Clas­sic debut.

“Today before we left the hotel, MLB [Net­work] said that they would have the first knock­out of the tour­na­ment, and I’m sor­ry for [them],” Spain man­ag­er Mau­ro Maz­zot­ti said. “And we start­ed a lit­tle bit tense, a lit­tle bit ner­vous, a lit­tle bit of fear, and we fal­tered for an inning. But I think that after, we played well and we had some good at ‑bats, and we had our chances.

“We played a game, and wet our feet in the tour­na­ment, and let’s see. Let’s see what comes next.”

What comes next is the Domini­can Repub­lic, per­haps the most feared team in this Pool C group­ing. Puer­to Rico will move on to play Venezuela on Sat­ur­day, fol­low­ing by a meet­ing with that Domini­can squad on Sunday.

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.