PR tops Venezuela, heads to WBC '17 semis unbeaten
Puerto Ricans 6-0 in Classic; will face the Netherlands in semifinal
By Chad Thornburg
SAN DIEGO -- Puerto Rico put its stamp on the World Baseball Classic second round with a 13-2 win over Venezuela on Saturday, completing a sweep of the Pool F competition at Petco Park.
Puerto Rico improved to 6-0 and joins Japan as the only two nations to remain unbeaten through two rounds of the tournament. As the winner of Pool F, the Puerto Rican team opens the finals Monday night against the Netherlands at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (9 p.m. ET, MLB Network and MLB.TV).
"The joy that we're giving our country right now is unbelievable," said Puerto Rico's Carlos Beltran. "We're going through a tough time as a country, so the fact that we are uniting our people and everybody is rooting for us, we're playing such good baseball. Hopefully we can finish this in a positive way."
Venezuela's tournament run comes to an end with a 2-5 record. The Venezuelan team, which was eliminated Friday night when Puerto Rico defeated the United States, went 2-2 in Round 1 -- defeating Italy twice, including in a tiebreaker matchup -- before losing all three of its games in San Diego. The tournament run was bookended by 11-run losses to Puerto Rico.
"We didn't think that this was the way we were going to play," Venezuelan manager Omar Vizquel said. "It was surprising for all of us.
"Other teams came very prepared. They executed their plan to perfection, and they pitched much better than us and batted better than us. Simple as that."
Puerto Rico peppered the Venezuelan pitching staff with a steady dose of hits throughout the afternoon, totaling 17 hits with six doubles, but couldn't capitalize on its consistent offensive productive early in the contest. The Puerto Rican team batted 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position until two outs into the fifth inning, when Mike Aviles lined an RBI single to left.
Puerto Rico then ran away with it, plating 10 runs over the final four frames for yet another dominant victory. The team has now outscored its opponents by a 51-15 margin through six games this Classic.
"We were expecting [to have] good games and a good tournament. We were not expecting to dominate the whole tournament the way we've been doing," Puerto Rican manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "But we have to go to L.A. now and play there and we have to keep winning [for] two more games. So whatever we did, six games, that's in the past. We have to concentrate on what is coming, the task at hand."
As Puerto Rico's offense lit up the scoreboard and dominated the spotlight, its pitching staff held the Venezuelan bats in check. Starter Jose De Leon -- the Rays' No. 3 prospect and No. 33 overall, per MLBPipeline.com -- tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings in his Classic debut. He allowed just three hits and a walk and struck out five batters.
"I'm always following his stats, but this is the first time I've had a chance to watch him pitch," Rodriguez said. "I was very impressed with his fastball, with the command of his secondary pitches. ... Eventually, I can see him pitching in the big leagues at some point this year."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Pagan fires a rocket to home: Venezuela nearly tied the game in the second inning when three of its first four batters reached against Puerto Rico starter Jose De Leon -- Victor Martinez drew a leadoff walk and Carlos Gonzalez and Yangervis Solarte singled -- to load the bases. Hernan Perez then lined a hard-hit ball to Puerto Rican left fielder Angel Pagan, who caught the liner and then threw out Martinez at the plate. His throw home arrived with plenty of time for catcher Roberto Perez to apply the tag for an inning-ending double play.
Odor goes deep:Rougned Odor collected his second home run of the tournament in the sixth inning on a line drive to center field. The two-run blast cut his team's deficit to 5-2 and brought an end to Puerto Rico's 12-inning scoreless streak vs. Venezuela in this year's Classic.
Rivera's hustle pays off: A throwing error by first baseman Hernan Perez turned a would-be third out into another Puerto Rican run in the third frame. T.J. Rivera hustled down the line on a short dribbler to first, topping out at 19.9 mph, according to Statcast™. Hernan Perez's throw was off target, preventing pitcher Martin Perez from making the out at first and allowing Puerto Rico third baseman Carlos Correa to score from second.
The play would be Perez's last, as he exited after 2 2/3 innings of work. He allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits and a walk and struck out three.
Seventh-inning outburst: Puerto Rico's lineup got rolling in the seventh, padding the lead with a five-run frame. Seven of the inning's first eight batters reached on two doubles, two walks and three singles. Aviles, Rene Rivera, Pagan and Correa each drove in runs. Venezuela managed to stop the bleeding by doubling up on a sacrifice fly, throwing out Pagan out at third.
"I think it speaks for the character of this team how they just come at you every inning like it's the last," T.J. Rivera said. "It's unbelievable the way everybody's so focused in and trying to pick each other up. What we've been able to do is unbelievable. But, like [Rodriguez] said, it means nothing. Now we've got to get to work."
"Yadier Molina took some time out of his personal time in the offseason to create a [group] chat where every single member of the team was in it. We were basically talking to each other every single day, 24/7, from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep. ... It was just saying hi, telling jokes. Before you know it, the entire team has blonde hair." -- Shortstop Kiké Hernandez on the tight bonds on Team Puerto Rico.
WHAT'S NEXT Puerto Rico: The Pool F winners advance to the semifinals in Los Angeles, where PR will take on the Netherlands on Monday at 9 p.m. ET (6 PT).
Venezuela: The Venezuelans are eliminated from this year's World Baseball Classic. They finish the tournament with a 2-5 record.
The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.