Behind starting pitcher Mario Santiago, Puerto Rico stunned two-time defending champion Japan on Sunday night in San Francisco. The Puerto Rico pitching staff simply shut down the vaunted Japan lineup limiting it to only six hits in the loss.
Semifinals – San Francisco, California
Puerto Rico 3, Japan 1
Santiago pitched in the Korean Baseball Organization for the SK Wyverns and didn’t particularly have a great outing his first go around in the WBC losing to the USA. But Sunday night was different. He tossed 4.1 scoreless innings giving up only two hits.
Santiago did what he had to do, keep the ball on the ground. He got 13 outs in the game and eight of them were on ground balls.
Japan’s starting pitcher almost matched Santiago pitch for pitch. Kenta Maeda, who had been lights out so far in the WBC, gave up an early run and then settled into his normal shutout form.
It was the walks that got Maeda early on. In the top of the first he walked two straight hitters which came back to haunt him. With two outs Puerto Rico’s leading RBI man, Mike Aviles, came through once again. This time it was on a single to center field to drive in Irving Falu from second base to give them a 1-0 lead. It was the first run Maeda had given up in the Classic.
The game was pretty uneventful until the bottom of the fifth when Japan started to make a little noise. With a runner at first, Yoshio Itoi hit a grounder just out of the reach of first baseman Carlos Rivera. It looked like it might squeak through the infield for a basehit, but Falu made a great diving stop and an even better throw to a moving Rivera to get the runner by half a step.
After the play, Santiago would leave the game with tightness in his right forearm. Jose De La Torre came on in relief and would up striking out two batters to get out of the jam.
With the game still 1-0 in the top of the seventh, Mike Aviles singled to get the inning started. Alex Rios, who had struggled a bit, uncorked a long home run to left field making it 3-0. Japan reliever Atsushi Nomi left a change up up in the zone, and Rios crushed it. It was only the second home run for Puerto Rico in the Classic.
Japan tried to make waves in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Takashi Toritani tripled to deep center field and was driven home on a Hirokazu Ibata single. Seiichi Uchikawa was next up and he followed suit with a single of his own.
Then something happened that doesn’t happen too often. Japan made a huge mistake.
Down 3-1 with two runners on and the reigning Central League MVP at bat in Shinnosuke Abe, Uchikawa made a base running mistake. Someone missed a sign and on the 0-1 pitch, Uchikawa ran but Ibata didn’t. So Puerto Rico wound up getting an easy out on the basepaths.
Abe would wind up grounding out to second to end the inning, but that mistake on the base paths seemed to take the wind out of Japan.
After a walk in the bottom of the ninth, Fernando Cabrera came on to get the last two outs of the game to earn the save.
With the win Puerto Rico advances for the first time to the Championship Game of the WBC against the winner of the Netherlands/Dominican Republic game on Monday night.