Photo: Puerto Rico in Baseball Classic Finals
Buoyed by strong pitching and a two-run home run off the bat of Alex Rios, Puerto Rico defeated Japan 3-1 here to advance to the final of the World Baseball Classic.
Mario Santiago started Sunday’s game at AT&T Park for the U.S. commonwealth and held the Asian squad scoreless through 4 1/3 innings, giving up just two hits and one walk. He exited with a 1-0 lead thanks to an RBI single by Mike Aviles in the top of the first inning.
Relievers Jose De La Torre and Xavier Cedeño came on in the middle part of the game and were equally stingy, each working an inning and a third to keep Japan scoreless through seven innings.
While Japan’s batters were being stymied, outfielder Alex Rios gave Puerto Rico a pair of insurance runs in the top of the seventh, driving a pitch from Atsushi Nomi over the left-field fence with Aviles on base.
Designated hitter Hirokazu Ibata finally got Japan on the board in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single, but it was too little too late as J.C. Romero and Fernando Cabrera combined to record the final five outs of the game.
Santiago got the win and Japanese starter Kenta Maeda took the loss.
Next up for the Puerto Ricans in their maiden World Baseball Classic final will be the winner of Monday’s game between the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands, who are both seeking their first-ever berth in the championship game.
The final will be played Tuesday afternoon.
Japan won the 2006 and 2009 editions of this international competition, defeating Cuba and South Korea in those respective finals.