Cleveland Indians' infielder Mike Aviles' two-out RBI single in the top of the first gave Puerto Rico an early 1-0 lead over the United States in their Round 2 matchup in the World Baseball Classic. Tonight's win-or-go-home WBC game didn't have half of the boisterous, instrument-wielding crowd that turned out to watch the Dominican Republic beat the U.S. last night or even the one that watched Gio Gonzalez shut Puerto Rico down earlier this week in the US squad's 7-1 win on Tuesday night in Miami's Marlins Park.
Team USA right-hander Ryan Vogelsong was up in the zone early in the game, giving up three singles in the first and after a 1-2-3 second, surrendering a leadoff walk and a two-out double by Carlos Beltran in the third. The double play the Giants' starter got from Jesus Feliciano after the leadoff walk to his teammate Angel Pagan is all that kept the Americans from trailing by two after Beltran's hit. The St. Louis Cardinals' outfielder was stranded at second instead one out later when Yadier Molina popped out to end the third.
Nelson FIgueroa, 38, who signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks this past December, last pitched in the majors with the Houston Astros in 2011. FIgueroa pitched at Triple-A with the Yankees and Red Sox' top affiliates in 2012. Tonight in Miami, the right-hander held the U.S. team off the scoreboard through the first five innings, giving up just one hit and one walk while throwing 69 pitches, 47 for strikes and preserving Puerto Rico's 1-0 lead. The U.S. turned to 28-year-old Indians' right-hander Vinnie Pestano with one on and two out in the top of the sixth, after Vogelsong gave up a one-out walk to Carlos Beltran and got a flyout to center from Yadier Molina...
Ryan Vogelsong's line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R*, 2 ER*, 2 BB, 1 K, 73 P, 43 S.
A single off Pestano by Mike Aviles and back-to-back walks by Chicago White Sox outfielder Alex Rios and one-time Pirates' first baseman Carlos RIvera, respectively, loaded the bases and then forced in a run* to make it 2-0 Puerto Rico before 31-year-old White Sox' minor leaguer Andy Gonzalez's two-run double to left gave the U.S. a 4-0 lead after five and a half. Nelson Figueroa was approaching his pitch limit when Jimmy Rollins singled with one down in the bottom of the sixth, but one out later the Philadelphia Phillies' shortstop was caught stealing with Ryan Braun at the plate to end the Puerto Rican starter's 6.0 scoreless inning of work.
Figueroa's line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 Ks, 82 P, 57 S.
The United States finally got on the board in the seventh after Figuerao was out of the game. Joe Mauer tripled to center off Puerto Rican lefty (and 22-year-old Indians' prospect) Giovanni Soto with one down. Mauer then scored the United States' first run on an RBI single to left by Giancarlo Stanton. 4-1 Puerto Rico. Ben Zobrist grounded into a force at second for the second out of the frame, but Eric Hosmer's two-out single brought the tying run to the plate in the person of Adam Jones, prompting Puerto Rico's manager Edwin Rodriguez to go to the pen for right-hander Jose De La Torre, a 27-year-old Boston Red Sox' prospect, who got Adam Jones looking on a questionable (it wasn't a strike) called strike three to end the U.S. rally. Still 4-1 PR.
Former Marlin and current D-Back Heath Bell threw a scoreless eighth, giving up one hit. De La Torre returned in the bottom of the inning and gave up back-to-back one-out singles by Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Phillips. A double by the third base bag by Ryan Braun brought Rollins around to make it 4-2. De La Torre was replaced by lefty Xavier Cedeno, a 26-year-old Houston Astros' pitcher, who walked Joe Mauer to load the bases... with one out... for Giancarlo Stanton... Puerto Rico brought on 31-year-old right-hander Fernando Cabrera. Stanton worked the count full in an eight-pitch at bat that ended in a pop to short left. Two outs. Ben Zobrist got ahead 3-1 on Cabrera, and walked to force in run no.3, 4-3 Puerto Rico.
The fourth pitcher in the eighth, J.C. Romero, came out of the pen, and got a groundout to second by Eric Hosmer that ended the eighth. Still 4-3. Braves' closer Craig Kimbrel pitched around a leadoff single in a scoreless top of the ninth. J.C. Romero stayed on for Puerto Rico and retired the U.S. hitters in order for the save. 4-3 Puerto Rico and the U.S. is eliminated from the WBC.
What does this all mean for Washington Nationals fans? Well, it means that Nats' lefties Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler will be heading back to Viera, Florida to rejoin the defending NL East champs for the last two weeks of Grapefruit League action. Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson discussed the scheduling should the U.S. lose tonight with reporters this morning including the Washington Post's James Wagner, who wrote that Gonzalez, the 2012 21-game winning left-hander who threw 5.0 scoreless vs Puerto Rico Tuesday night, would pitch on his regular rest on Sunday afternoon when Washington travels to Lakeland, Florida's Joker Marchant Stadium to take on the Detroit Tigers.
As for Detwiler, who threw 4.0 scoreless in relief of Ryan Vogelsong on Saturday night and never pitched again in the WBC, the WaPost's Mr. Wagner wrote, "[Pitching Coach Steve] McCatty and Johnson would have to find a spot for Detwiler based on whether – and how much – he pitches tonight." Veteran right-hander Chris Young has been filling Detwiler's spot in the Nationals' rotation while the 26-year-old left-hander has been with the U.S. team.