LOS ANGELES -- Blonds have more fun, and now they'll have one more game to play.
In a World Baseball Classic classic that featured a little bit of everything -- two extra innings, new rules, spectacular defense, timely hitting, emotional outbursts, multiple replay reviews, long home runs and epic performances by Major League stars -- one team eventually had to win to become the first entrant in the final of the 2017 tournament.
It was the golden-locked men of Puerto Rico, who prevailed, 4-3, in the bottom of the 11th inning on Monday night at Dodger Stadium when Eddie Rosario's sacrifice line drive to center field drove home Carlos Correa, sparking a celebration by first base and ending a marathon that clocked in at 4 hours, 19 minutes, and will be talked about for quite some time in both countries and beyond. More >
"It means a lot, because Puerto Ricans have gone through a very difficult [economic] situation currently, and we were able to unite our country," Correa said, "because of our blond hair and through baseball."
Puerto Rico will now await the winner of the United States-vs.-Japan matchup set for Tuesday night at 9 ET, and it will play on Wednesday for what it hopes will be its first Classic championship in four attempts. You can watch all championship round games live on MLB.TV and MLB Network. In Wednesday's final at 9 p.m. ET, Puerto Rico, which will start right-hander Seth Lugo of the New York Mets, will be the home team vs. the U.S. should America advance, and if the P.R. meets Japan, the home-road teams will be determined by a coin flip.
"Tonight, they graduated," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said of his young charges. "Tonight, they do deserve to go where we're headed, which is the final game, because they handled the basic fundamentals [of] baseball."
Monday's taut battle was deadlocked through 10 innings, and in the 11th, new rules for the Classic went into effect in which runners were placed on first and second base at the beginning of the frame. After Puerto Rico (and Seattle Mariners) closer Edwin Diaz got out of his jam with a double play to seal a dominant two-inning effort, Puerto Rico, which had Correa on second and Enrique Hernandez on first, greeted Netherlands reliever Loek Van Mil with a sacrifice bunt by Yadier Molina, prompting the Dutch to intentionally walk the next batter, Javier Baez. That loaded the bases for Rosario, whose line drive was deep enough to center that Jurickson Profar's throw didn't have a chance to nail Correa.
"The last [Classic in 2013], I wanted to play, but I was too young," Correa said. "So undoubtedly, I am very happy with having the opportunity. So we are able to finish it on Wednesday."
The game began with an epic first inning, a highlight-reel series of events marked by miscues, outward displays of emotion and two monstrous home runs. After Andrelton Simmons got on base by legging out an infield single and Xander Bogaerts was hit by a pitch by Puerto Rico starter Jorge Lopez, the first of two baserunning mistakes happened when Simmons was caught in a rundown by catcher Molina and tagged between second and third.
The next batter, Profar, singled to right field, and after a strong throw home by Rosario kept Bogaerts at third, Profar celebrated his hit by motioning to the Netherlands' dugout while stepping casually back to first base. He did it for a few seconds too many, however. Molina astutely witnessed the moment of careless merriment, gunned Profar out at first base, and then, jumping animatedly in the air, turned to the pro-Puerto Rico crowd in the seats beyond the team's dugout and goaded them to join the party.
"Frustrating for me is the mental errors that we committed in the first inning on the bases," Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. "We talked to the guys before the game about the experience of Yadier Molina behind the plate and [how] he likes to throw to the bases. … Then Jurickson getting the base hit, celebrating and not getting back to the base, that's unacceptable.
"Those two baserunning blunders cost us more runs in the first inning. That could have been the difference in the game."
But the Netherlands didn't go quietly. After Profar was tagged out, the next batter, Wladimir Balentien, blasted a no-doubt two-run home run into the left-field bleachers, a 422-foot shot that was Balentien's fourth of this World Baseball Classic. Balentien stoked even more emotion by flipping his bat demonstrably and pounding his chest as he began his trot. More >
But this wacky inning wasn't close to done. Puerto Rico got the score tied at 2 in relatively quick order and in decidedly less confusing fashion. With one out, Francisco Lindor doubled off Netherlands starter Rick Van Den Hurk and Correa followed with a 441-foot homer into the pavilion in left-center, prompting the Puerto Rico team, led by flag-bearing Hernandez, into another on-field dance party.
Puerto Rico took the lead in the second inning on a solo home run by first baseman T.J. Rivera, but the Netherlands answered in the fifth, tying the score on an RBI double by Shawn Zarraga. Meanwhile, solid work by both bullpens kept the game close.
In the end, though, it was Puerto Rico partying in its clubhouse and getting ready for whomever might be in its way Wednesday. Correa, for one, said he didn't seem to mind either way.
"I don't prefer any team," Correa said. "Whoever is the opponent, we're going to go out there and try to beat them.
"So we'll be watching the game, for sure, and we'll be tuning in to see who we're going to face. But it doesn't matter who we face. We're going to be ready."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED One crazy inning: The greatness of Molina, the passion of star players wearing their countries' names on the front of their jerseys, the long ball, the very-long ball and the outright bizarre all showed up in the first inning of Monday night's semifinal. When it was all said and done, the first inning came to a close with the score knotted 2-2, Profar had learned a hard lesson about baserunning by a very smart catcher, and the intensity level of the game had already reached a boil. More >
"For me, that was the game," Rodriguez said. "That first inning that Yadi Molina did what he did, for me, that was the game. Then again, Yadier Molina came to play."
Huge hit for Rivera: Rivera, an infielder in the Mets' system who appeared in 33 games in the Major Leagues last year, got a chance to shine on the world stage and came through. In the second inning, with the game tied at 2, Rivera belted a Van Den Hurk pitch over the wall for the tiebreaking homer, his second long ball of the Classic.
Inches away in the fifth: The Netherlands scored a run in the fifth to tie the game at 3, but the Dutch came inches from scoring two more. First, Balentien's two-out double hit the top of the wall and was less than a foot from being his second homer of the game. Then, after an intentional walk to Jonathan Schoop, Zarraga doubled home Balentien to tie it and Schoop was very close to scoring, save for the almost-impossible tag by defensive legend Molina.More >
Battle of the big league closers: Both teams used their closers, who happen to be stars in the Major Leagues, to great effect to keep the game tied late. Netherlands closer Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers, pitching in his home park, struck out the first two batters he faced and then got a groundout for a quick perfect bottom of the ninth. And Diaz struck out the side in order in the top of the 10th before his escape act in the 11th. More >
"I don't put pressure [on myself] when I'm pitching," Diaz said. "I just try to enjoy the moment and be happy on the mound. Anything can happen, but I try to do the best I can and just enjoy the moment."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With two outs in the top of the fourth inning and Netherlands designated hitter Curt Smith on first base, Kalian Sams singled to Puerto Rico second baseman Baez, who tossed to shortstop Lindor to try to get Smith diving back to the base. Smith was ruled safe, prompting a challenge by Rodriguez, but the umpires' review confirmed the ruling of safe after 1 minute and 55 seconds.
Then, with one out in the bottom of that inning, Baez was called out while trying to steal third base, but he motioned heatedly for his manager to review the play. Rodriguez did so and the umpires overturned the call after a review of 2 minutes and 6 seconds. More >
In the top of the fifth, with runners on first and second, Zarraga doubled and Balentien scored, but a solid relay by Puerto Rico left fielder Angel Pagan and second baseman Baez appeared to nail Schoop at home on a nifty tag by Molina. Meulens challenged the play, but the inning-ending out call was confirmed after a 48-second review.
And in the bottom of the fifth, with Pagan on first base, Lindor hit a fielder's-choice grounder to second baseman Schoop, who flipped to Simmons for a called forceout at second. Meulens challenged the play on grounds that Pagan's slide should have been ruled interference and therefore made it a double play, but the umpires upheld the play as called after a review of 1 minute, 10 seconds.
Puerto Rico will turn to Lugo, who has won both of his two starts in the tournament and carries a Classic ERA of 2.45 into Wednesday's final. Lugo, went 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in his first season in the Majors last year, making 17 appearances, eight of which were starts.
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.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.