It took 11 dramatic innings, but Puerto Rico earned a spot in the World Baseball Classic championship game Monday with a 4-3 victory over the Netherlands in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium.
It will compete for the crown Wednesday against the victor of Tuesday's showdown between the United States and Japan.
Eddie Rosario played the role of walk-off hero when his sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 11th drove home Carlos Correa to send Puerto Rico to the title game again, where it lost to the Dominican Republic in 2013.
Baseball fans saw a variation of the rule that will be featured in low-level minor leagues, putting runners on first and second to start the 11th inning or later in action Monday in a high-stakes environment, and it was no issue for Puerto Rico's double-play tandem of Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez.
The World Series pairing turned two to end the Netherlands' scoring chance in the top of the 11th, prompting admiration from Mark Strotman of CSN Chicago:
Mark Strotman @markstrot
Baez/Lindor up the middle is so sweet.2017-3-21 05:22:19
That gave Puerto Rico the opportunity to win with just one run, and a Yadier Molina sacrifice bunt and Baez's intentional walk put the bat in Rosario's hands. He delivered, but Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated commented on the quirky rule:
Joe Sheehan @joe_sheehan
"What was the key moment?" "Well, when Correa walked out to second base, I liked our chances."2017-3-21 05:28:56
The drama came at the end, but the fireworks started from the opening out.
The Netherlands put the first two on when Andrelton Simmons singled and Xander Bogaerts was hit by a pitch. However, Molina picked off Simmons on second and Jurickson Profar on first when the latter was pumping up his own dugout after a single.
Just when it looked as if the Netherlands wouldn't score despite Puerto Rico starter Jorge Lopez's inability to record an early out, Wladimir Balentien drilled a two-run homer.
Correa responded in the bottom of the first with a game-tying two-run bomb.
Jon Tayler of Sports Illustrated weighed in on the back-and-forth out of the gates:
Jon Tayler @JATayler
This is already the best inning of any WBC game in history.2017-3-21 01:16:53
Puerto Rico seized the lead on T.J. Rivera's solo homer before the offensive explosion slowed after starters Lopez (2.2 innings, two runs) and Rick Van Den Hurk (2.0 innings, three runs) exited.
The Netherlands tied the game in the fifth on Shawn Zarraga's double, but Baez threw a laser to Molina to retire Jonathan Schoop and prevent two runs from scoring. It was part of the Baez show in the middle innings that also featured the Chicago Cubs star impressing on the basepaths, per MLB:
.@javy23baez is coming for ya, @MichaelPhelps. #WBC2017 https://t.co/xmULQz3n742017-3-21 03:33:49
The bullpens went to work from there.
Puerto Rico's Hector Santiago (3.1 innings, one run), Alex Claudio (1.1 innings, zero runs) and Joseph Colon (1.2 innings, zero runs) thrived, while Jair Jurrjens (2.1 innings, zero runs), Shairon Martis (1.2 innings, zero runs) and Tom Stuifbergen (2.0 innings, zero runs) did the same on the other side.
The Netherlands grounded into double plays in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, as the middle infield combo of Baez and Lindor continued to work its magic. However, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen picked up the slack for his offense and delivered the extra innings a game of this magnitude deserved with a nine-pitch ninth for the Netherlands.
Tempers flared in the 10th when Edwin Diaz's pitch went up and in against Balentien, but the fireballer struck out the side with pure speed, as Daren Willman of MLB.com noted:
Daren Willman @darenw
Edwin Diaz... 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/iuY15kS5zl2017-3-21 05:07:46
The scoreless 10th meant the 11th inning rule came into play, and Diaz managed to escape his rule-induced jam and finish his second scoreless inning with that double play.
Puerto Rico still hasn't lost at any stage of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and it is now a single victory away from the ultimate triumph.
MLB Network shared the celebration from Puerto Rico:
MLB Network @MLBNetwork
It's a party in LA! #WBC2017 🇵🇷🇵🇷🇵🇷 https://t.co/mwlMkPT1K62017-3-21 05:47:46
Diaz commented on the stage, per MLB Network's Jon Morosi (h/t MLB Network PR): "We want to win the championship for Puerto Rico. The fans follow us and we followed Beltran and Yadier when we were kids. This is our moment."
Lindor praised Puerto Rico's veteran leader, per MLB Network PR: "If you pay attention, every time Yadier goes to the mound, I go to the mound because I'm trying to learn what Yadier is thinking…It's a dream for me."