MIAMI – Nelson Figueroa pitched six shutout innings and Puerto Rico edged the United States 4-3 on Friday to claim the last semi-final berth in the World Baseball Classic.
Figueroa, a 38-year-old right-hander for the Arizona Diamondbacks, silenced a US lineup of Major League Baseball’s best sluggers to secure Puerto Rico’s first berth in the final four of the global baseball showdown.
Puerto Rico joins two-time defending champion Japan, Dominican Republic and the Netherlands in the semi-finals on Sunday and Monday in San Francisco with those winners meeting in Tuesday’s championship game.
On Saturday, the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans will meet to decide which will be the top seed from the Miami group. The winner will face the Dutch in the semi-finals while the loser must meet Japan in the semi-finals.
The US squad remains the greatest disappointment in the international showcase of the American pastime, having been ousted in the second round again as they were in the inaugural 2006 Classic. They fell in the semi-finals in 2009.
This time, the Americans were eliminated by a Puerto Rico lineup that they routed 7-1 on Tuesday in the double-elimination round. The US stars also fell to the Dominicans 3-1 on Thursday.
Mike Aviles singled in a run in the first inning to put Puerto Rico ahead to stay and the visitors padded the margin to 4-0 in the sixth inning while starter Figueroa allowed only two hits and one walk while striking out two.
US pitcher Vinnie Pestano issued a bases-loaded walk to Carlos Rivera and Andy Gonzalez followed with a two-run double to fight field.
The Americans answered in the seventh inning when Giancarlo Stanton singled to left field to drive in the first US run.
Ryan Braun hit a run-scoring double to left field in the eighth and Puerto Rican relief pitcher Fernando Cabrera walked Ben Zobrist with the bases loaded to pull the Americans within the final margin.
Eric Hosmer grounded out to end the US rally and in the ninth, Puerto Rico brought in closing relief pitcher J.C. Romero to complete the victory.
US slugger Adam Jones struck out swinging, Shane Victorino was called out on strikes and Jimmy Rollins flew out to end the game.