Puerto Rico beat Netherlands to reach World Baseball Classic final

Greg Heakes
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Eddie Rosario of Puerto Rico celebrates with teammates after getting the game-winning hit in the 11th inning for a 4-3 win over the Netherlands, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, on March 20, 2017

Eddie Rosario clubbed a run-scoring sacrifice fly in the 11th inning as Puerto Rico punched their ticket to the World Baseball Classic final for the second straight year with a marathon 4-3 win over the Netherlands on Monday.

Rosario's blast brought infielder Carlos Correa home after he had advanced to third on an earlier sacrifice fly by catcher Yadier Molina in the semi-final at Dodger Stadium.

"Although we've been pretty much overpowering everybody throughout the series, today we played very good fundamental baseball and that is what got us the win," said Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez.

What started out as a first-inning slugfest turned into a battle of the bullpens in the first game of the championship round of the 16-team elite international baseball tournament.

Undefeated Puerto Rico will face the winner of the other semi-final between the United States and Japan in the championship game on Wednesday, also at Dodger Stadium.

After a burst of four runs from both sides to start the four-hour, 19-minute contest, the relief pitchers took over in the middle innings, setting the stage for Puerto Rico to win it in the bottom of the 11th.

Puerto Rico has been dominating the tournament with a ferocious offense, timely hitting and dependable pitching. On Monday they helped their cause with some clutch defensive plays and aggressive base running.

The victory improves Puerto Rico's perfect record to 7-0 as they seek redemption after finishing runner-up to the Dominican Republic in 2013.

Rodriguez called it the best game of the tournament.

"Defense and execution won the game today," he said. "It was very important for us to be able to bring the fundamentals.

"We turned I think three or four double plays. We bunted the ball well. We pitched to contact."

Correa said their performance has united the people of his country after all the economic hardship Puerto Rico has gone through the last few years.

"Puerto Ricans have gone through a very difficult situation currently and we were able to unite our country," he said. "We have united the country through sports."

- Monster home run -

Third baseman Correa finished with two hits, two runs and two RBIs on four at-bats Monday. He clobbered a 441-foot home run to left field in the first inning off Netherlands starter Rick Van Den Hurk that tied the game 2-2.

"To be able to do it in this semi-final game and to be able to tie it in the first inning against the Netherlands, it meant a tremendous amount for me personally," said Correa.

In an effort to shorten the games, organizers changed the format for extra innings this year by allowing teams to start the 11th inning with runners on first and second base. So Puerto Rico put Correa on second base and Kike Hernandez on first.

Puerto Rico had barely escaped the top half of the inning by turning a double play for the final two outs as the Netherlands almost took advantage of their unearned baserunners to start.

Netherlands designated hitter Curt Smith hit an infield grounder that resulted in Yurendell DeCaster being out at second and Smith out at first.

Neither starting pitcher lasted more than three innings. Netherlands right hander Van Den Hurk gave up five hits, including two homers, and three runs in two complete innings.

Puerto Rico's Jorge Lopez allowed four hits, two runs and one home run in just 2 2/3 innings.

The Netherlands are the all-time leader in European Championship titles, with 20 overall. More than half of the players on their lineup Monday were from the Caribbean Islands of Aruba and Curacao.

Former big-leaguer Wladimir Balentien went three-for-four at the plate with a home run in the first inning, but the Puerto Rican bullpen kept him in check when it mattered the most.

"We had the opportunity with bases loaded and one out and we were unable to do what they did with that sacrifice fly," said Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens.

Right-hander Tanner Roark will start for Team USA in the second semi-final on Tuesday night, while Japan will be going with ace Tomoyuki Sugano, a 27-year-old right-hander from the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese league.