Score and situation: Move over Japan, it's time for a new World Baseball Classic champion. Yes, the winners of the first two tournaments are headed home after being stifled by Puerto Rican pitching and some timely offense in a 3-1 loss in Sunday's semifinal at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The win gives Puerto Rico its first ever spot in the WBC final. It will play the winner of Monday's game between the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands.
Leading lads: Mike Aviles started the scoring in the first with a RBI single that scored Irving Falu and Alex Rios added a two-run homer in the top of the seventh. Puerto Rico's pitching was also stellar as Mario Santiago — a 28-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand — pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings before he tweaked his arm on a throw to first and was removed from the game. The bullpen, however, had his back as Jose De La Torre, Xavier Cedeno, Randy Fontanez, J.C. Romero and Fernando Cabrera allowed only one run the rest of the way.
Head hangers: Japanese outfielder Selichi Uchikawa killed his team's biggest chance at a rally in the eighth inning when he was thrown out on a double steal attempt that overlooked one crucial detail — the runner in front of him wasn't running on the play. Uchikawa's gaffe went for the second out of the inning and limited Japan's haul to just one run.
Japan starter Kenta Maeda also struggled early, issuing two first-inning walks that led to Aviles' RBI single.
Japan starter Kenta Maeda (Getty Images)Key play: Apart from Uchikawa's baserunning snafu, Puerto Rican reliever Xavier Cedeno entered the game with two outs in the sixth inning and struck out Japanese star Shinnosuke Abe. The punchout stranded Uchikawa at third after his two-out triple and preserved Puerto Rico's lead at 1-0.
Interesting stat: Rios entered the game hitting 3-for-22 over seven WBC games and had gone hitless in his first two at-bats on Sunday.
What they'll be talking about: There were 335 Japanese media members that requested credentials for the championship round and they'll head home early with plenty to talk about. From Uchikawa's mistake to the team's impotent offense to wondering what might have been had any Japanese MLB stars participated, Japan have will have plenty to dissect from its failed three-peat bid.
It'd be a mistake, however, not to give Puerto Rico plenty of credit for this victory. Despite playing the Dominican Republic in Miami just a day earlier, the team didn't display any negative effects from its cross-country flight. Just like its huge win over the United States on Friday night, Puerto Rico's victory was built on a strong starting pitching effort and solid appearances from the bullpen.
What's next: Puerto Rico advances to Tuesday's championship game and will face the winner of Monday's semifinal between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic. First pitch of that game is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.