Puerto Rico punched its ticket to the World Baseball Classic semifinals in Los Angeles with a 6-5 win over the United States on Friday at Petco Park, remaining unbeaten in this year's tournament.
Puerto Rico, which finished as the runner-up in the 2013 Classic, will now join Japan and the Netherlands among the four nations competing at Dodger Stadium next week. The U.S. remains in the hunt, vying to reach the semifinals for just the second time in four Classic appearances. The team will be determined by Saturday evening's bout between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic at 10 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV.
"This is an unbelievable win for us," Puerto Rico designated hitter Carlos Beltran said. "The fact that we get the opportunity to go to the finals in L.A. really means a lot to us. So we're happy, and I know our people in Puerto Rico are very happy also."
Friday's result eliminated Pool F contender Venezuela, which will take on Puerto Rico on Saturday afternoon. That contest precedes the evening's main event at 3:30 p.m. ET in San Diego.
The United States battled back throughout the night and even threatened to erase Puerto Rico's lead in the ninth inning when Brandon Crawford's two-RBI triple cut the deficit to one and put the tying run at third. Mariners reliever Edwin Diaz extinguished the rally and clinched the victory by striking out Josh Harrison.
Puerto Rico hit the ground running for an early 4-0 lead with each of its first six batters reaching base on a single. A pivotal throwing error by U.S. third baseman Nolan Arenado in the sixth inning gave Puerto Rico the two runs it would need to endure the late American rally.
Seth Lugo earned the victory for Puerto Rico for his 5 2/3 innings of work. Lugo, who is competing for a spot in the Mets' rotation this spring, surrendered three runs and five hits, including both home runs.
"That first inning was just incredible because it gave us so much confidence," Beltran said. "We went to the field with much more intensity, and we were confident with each one of us."
Team USA starter Marcus Stroman, who held the Dominican Republic scoreless for 4 2/3 frames in the first round, has never surrendered more than five hits in a single inning in his Major League career. Stroman settled in after the first to hold Puerto Rico to two hits and a walk until his exit, two outs into the fifth. More >>
Puerto Rico capitalizes on errant throw: Arenado gifted Puerto Rico a pair of runs in the sixth inning with a throwing error. The four-time Gold Glove Award winner hauled in a tough ground ball by Pagan that nearly skipped over his head but his throw was off the mark, hitting the dirt and taking a bad bounce past first baseman Eric Hosmer. The error turned a likely inning-ending out into a two-run boon for Puerto Rico as both Baez and Eddie Rosario scored on the play.
"That's just part of the game," Team USA manager Jim Leyland said. "That's the human element of baseball. You know, that's a great third baseman. I have no problem with that whatsoever."
American hero:Adam Jones came through late for the U.S. yet again with a solo homer that made it a one-run game in the sixth inning. Jones delivered the walk-off hit that propelled Team USA past Colombia in the first round in Miami last week and also hit a game-tying home run in Wednesday's victory over Venezuela.
The Orioles outfielder hasn't had much success early in games in this tournament, batting 1-for-11 with zero RBIs, but has been clutch in the sixth inning and later, when he's 5-for-9 with four extra-base hits and four RBIs.
Diaz hangs tough: Crawford's triple made the game interesting in the ninth as Team USA threatened to undo Puerto Rico's lead. With the tying run 90 feet from home plate, Diaz made Harrison whiff on an 86.6 mph slider that clinched his second save of the tournament.
Diaz, 22, is expected to serve as Seattle's closer this season after converting 18 of 21 save opportunities as a rookie last year.
"Nothing compares to this moment right now, playing for my home country, being able to represent Puerto Rico and be able to bring a lot of joy and happiness to the people back home that are going through a tough time right now." -- Correa
"We have stopped thinking about our name on the back and we've been thinking about Puerto Rico, and this has been a family as far as this team is concerned." -- Beltran
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Stroman became the first U.S. starting pitcher to surrender an earned run in the tournament. Chris Archer, Stroman, Danny Duffy and Drew Smyly combined to allow just one unearned run through 17 1/3 innings over the team's first four games.
WHAT'S NEXT Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico and Venezuela open Saturday's split doubleheader at Petco Park with a 3:30 p.m. ET contest. Puerto Rico shut out Venezuela in Round 1, winning 11-0 in a mercy-rule shortened contest in Jalisco, Mexico.
After concluding the second round in San Diego, Pool F winner Puerto Rico will advance to face the Netherlands on Monday night in Los Angeles.
"We faced [the] Dominican, we faced Venezuela, we faced United States. I mean, quality teams," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "So we feel very confident going to L.A. right now."
United States: The United States and the Dominican Republic will compete for a spot in the Classic semifinals in an elimination game Saturday night at 10 ET. The winner will advance to Los Angeles alongside Puerto Rico, Japan and the Netherlands.
The Dominican team defeated Team USA in the first round at Marlins Park, rallying from five runs down for a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
"It's pretty simple. We've got to win a game," Leyland said. "We know that. There's no secrets to it."
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.