Team USA fell to Team Puerto Rico in last night's elimination game, leading to another early exit in the World Baseball Classic. Nelson Figueroa made the start for Puerto Rico and his 83 mph fastball bamboozled the USA team for most of the night. He pitched six scoreless innings before giving way to the bullpen, who let USA back into the game.
The only run through the first five innings for either team cam in the top of the first when Mike Aviles knocked in Angel Pagan, who had led off the game with a single off of USA starter Ryan Vogelsong. The next several innings were a pitchers' duel as Figueroa cruised and Vogelsong worked out of a few jams to keep Puerto Rico from scoring again.
Vogelsong ran into trouble in the six inning, and with a runner on and two outs, manager Joe Torre went to reliever Vinnie Pestano. Pestano was a mess. He gave up a single to Aviles and then walked Alex Rios to load the bases. That prompted a visit to the mound by pitching coach Greg Maddux, who I'm sure imparted some wisdom like, "Just be one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball. It's not that hard, really." Well, Pestano did not take his advice and instead walked in a run to make the score 2-0. Two more runs scored on Andy Gonzalez's double, and Puerto Rico took what felt like an insurmountable lead.
Team USA had some fight in them, though. After Figueroa finally came out of the game, Joe Mauer tripled and was knocked in by Giancarlo Stanton for the USA's first run of the game. Two batters later Adam Jones came to the plate with two runners on, representing the tying run. Adam showed great plate discipline, it was great to watch. Pitcher Jose De La Torre threw low and away on Adam but he didn't bit, working the count full. The final pitch of the at bat was low and outside the strike zone and should have been ball four, but the umpire rung Adam up on a bad call to end the inning.
Team USA scored two more runs in the bottom of the eighth inning thanks to an RBI double from Ryan Braun and a bases loaded walk from Ben Zobrist. But Eric Hosmer couldn't come through with two outs and the bases loaded, so USA went into the 9th down by one run.
Adam Jones got one more at bat to lead off the ninth inning and this time he struck out swinging on a ball outside. Gotta wonder if he would have swung had he not been rung up on a similar pitch in the seventh. USA went down 1-2-3 to pitcher J.C. Romero to end the game and be eliminated from the tournament.
Puerto Rico moves on to play in the final four with Japan, Dominican Republic, and The Netherlands. Two Orioles remain: Jonathan Schoop for Netherlands and Pedro Strop for Dominican Republic. After a game today between Puerto Rico and Domincan Republic to determine seeding, the final round begins in San Francisco tomorrow night with the championship game on Tuesday.