Puerto Rico advances to World Baseball Classic finals with walk-off win

Puerto Rico is heading back to the WBC finals. (AP)
Puerto Rico is heading back to the WBC finals. (AP)

It was thrilling, it was dramatic and it took extra innings, but now Puerto Rico is back in the finals of the World Baseball Classic, one win away from being a beached-blond team of young MLB stars that ran the table.

Puerto Rico beat the Netherlands 4-3 on Monday night, in a semifinal game that went to international tiebreaker rules. That means, in the 11th inning, the teams started with runners at first and second each inning. It’s unusual to MLB audiences, but it sure shakes things up and tweaks strategies.

It worked perfectly in Puerto’s Rico favor. In the top of the 11th, an inning-ending double play kept Netherlands off the scoreboard, then the Puerto Rico came up just needing a base hit to win the game. After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, all Puerto Rico actually needed was a sac fly. It came off the bat of Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario and Carlos Correa raced home as the winning run.

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Now Puerto Rico moves onto the WBC finals, which will be held Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. Team USA and Japan play Tuesday for the other spot in the finals. Japan hasn’t lost a game in the tournament and is a two-time WBC champion. The U.S. is 4-2 after surviving two tough rounds of round robin play.

Puerto Rico made it to the finals in the 2013 WBC, but lost 3-0 to the Dominican Republic in the finals. This time around, fueled by young stars Correa, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor plus vets Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran, the Puerto Ricans haven’t lost a game.

Monday night’s semifinal was a game that started with a bang and was accented throughout the night by great highlights. The Netherlands struck first, as Wladimir Balentien hit a huge two-run homer in the first inning. He flipped his bat, pounded his chest and celebrated like he’d just won the game. That was a testament to how hype the Dutch was for the game.

In the bottom half of the inning, Correa answered with a two-run homer of his own, tying the game and making the Puerto Rico players run off the bench like it was the ninth inning for them too.

Puerto Rico went ahead on a T.J. Rivera homer in the second — and the offense dried up for a bit. That was until the fifth inning, when Shawn Zarraga brought home Balentien with a double off the wall to tie the game. Netherlands tried to plate the go-ahead run, but the Puerto Rican team pulled off an incredibly precise relay to nail Jonathan Schoop at the plate.

That’s a good example of what Puerto Rico can do at its best. Soon enough we’ll find out if its best is good enough to knock off either Japan or Team USA.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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