The Tortoise and the Hare isn’t much of a baseball tale. Except Friday night in Miami, when Aesop’s fable played out in living color in the World Baseball Classic quarterfinal game between Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Mexico, in the role of tortoise, defeated the Puerto Rican hare 5-4 to advance to a semifinal game Monday night in Miami. Mexico will take on Japan.
World Baseball Classic: Mexico 5, Puerto Rico 4
If you know the fable, you know how the quarterfinal played out. But for those not conversant in Aesop…
Puerto Rico hit Mexico starter Julio Urias with a four-spot faster than you could say jackrabbit. Kiké Hernandez drew a one-out base on balls, took third on a Nelson Velazquez base hit, and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Emmanuel Rivera.
The next hitter, Javier Baez, homered into his own bullpen in right-center, scoring Velazquez ahead of him. On the next pitch, Eddie Rosario did the same thing, except he chose the center field batter’s eye as his landing spot.
The Mexican tortoise had barely left the starting line and the Puerto Rican hare had already disappeared over the horizon.
Then a funny thing happened; Puerto Rico’s offense settled in for a long nap. Having scored four times in six batters, Team Puerto Rico managed just four lonely base hits over the ensuing seven innings.
The Mexican tortoise never built up much offensive steam, but its insistent efforts nettled Puerto Rico. With one out in the second, Isaac Paredes produced Mexico’s first hit, a home run over the wall in left-center. In the fifth, Alek Thomas rolled a ground ball up the middle that Javier Baez couldn’t make a play on, Austin Barnes singled him to third, and Alex Verdugo got him home with a soft liner to center.
That made it 4-2. The tortoise was moving into sight of the hare.
Finally in the seventh, the tortoise caught up … big-time.
Facing Alexis Diaz, Puerto Rico’s fourth of an eventual six pitchers, Barnes started by lining a double that Eddie Rosario finally ran down in left. Diaz walked Randy Arozarena (often a prudent thing to do) then also walked Alex Verdugo to load the bases, an imprudent thing to do.
It was imprudent enough that Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina lifted Diaz in favor of Jorge Lopez. He sat down Joey Meneses on a foul pop and struck out Rowdy Tellez to move within one out of avoiding major trouble.
But that third out came two batters too late for Puerto Rico. Isaac Paredes tied the game with a line single to left that scored Barnes and Arozarena, then Luis Urias fought off an inside heater and dropped it inside the line in short right, scoring Verdugo with the go-ahead run.
The tortoise had somehow shown the hare his rear end.
Suddenly desperate, Puerto Rico tried to fight back in the short distance remaining. In the eighth, MJ Melendez walked and Baez singled him over but Jake Sanchez got Rosario on an inning-ending popup.
Finally in the ninth, Christian Vazquez produced a leadoff single and, two outs later, Francisco Lindor singled up the middle, moving pinch runner Johneshwy Fargas into scoring position. But Team Mexico closer Giovanny Gallegos froze Hernandez with a two-strike offspeed pitch over the heart of the plate for the clinching strikeout.
Just like Aesop said, slow and steady — like the Mexican tortoise — wins the race.