Alex Rios crosses with the game-winner for Puerto Rico. (USA Today)
Gut-wrenching may be putting it mildly since it was Italy's game to win if it could just stay out of its own way. Unfortunately, that did not happen, so the dream ends in Miami. And that's not to suggest Puerto Rico didn't do its part to apply pressure, either, but it was one defensive miscue after another that helped erase a 3-0 lead.
The unraveling began in the sixth inning after two nearly identical fielding errors by shortstop Anthony Granato. The second would skip into center field allowing Yadier Molina to score to make it 3-1. The miscues reached epic levels in the eighth as Puerto Rico rallied to score the three difference-making runs.
Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina both reached base to set the rally up. An RBI groundout from Mike Aviles, single from Alex Rios and sacrifice fly from Luis Figueroa followed to tie it 3-3. That then set the stage for defensive replacement Jack Santora, who came in for Granato at shortstop for Italy, to short-arm a throw across the diamond. When first baseman Anthony Rizzo failed to pick it cleanly (he was several feet off the bag), Rios raced all the way around from second with the go-ahead run.
Granted, it was anything but a routine play. Santora did well to field the ball and recollect himself after the hit was redirected by third baseman Alex Liddi, but he may have been best advised to just hold on. Strangely, Santora was not charged with an error. He was, however, charged on the next play when his throw to third base pulled Liddi off the bag on a force attempt.
That mistake didn't lead to a run, but it sure was a fitting way to cap to Italy's meltdown.
Many are also questioning why manager Marco Mazzieri didn't turn to his one major league pitcher, reliever Jason Grilli, at any point during the inning. It's a great question. Given how things played out, though, I'm not sure it would have made a difference. Sure, it would have given the Italians a much better chance to survive the eighth, but that ninth would have been a doozy to get through.
Bottom line, Italy just needed to catch and throw the baseball better if it had any plans on advancing.
Puerto Rico, on the other hand, does advance and it'll now meet the loser of Thursday's USA-Dominican Republic matchup in an elimination game on Friday. The winner there advances to the semifinals in San Francisco.
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