MIAMI — Giancarlo Stanton has carried the Marlins for many a game. His last at-bat Friday afforded him the chance to take not only a team, but an entire country on his shoulders.
With one out, the bases loaded and Team USA trailing Puerto Rico by two run in the eighth, Stanton stepped into the Marlins Park batter’s box from where he’s launched countless pitches. On the eighth-pitch of his at-bat against Fernando Cabrera, Stanton reached for a slider popped it up into short left for the second out.
Team USA would add one more run that inning, but it wasn’t enough to stave off World Baseball Classic elimination. Puerto Rico stunned Joe Torre’s squad, 4-3. That earned it a trip to San Francisco for the championship round with the Dominican Republic, Japan and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The second round concludes today at Marlins Park with a Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic meeting, the second of this World Baseball Classic. The Dominicans beat Puerto Rico 4-2 last Sunday in San Juan. Both teams already had qualified for the second round.
Saturday’s winner gets a nice advantage, playing the Netherlands on Monday instead of Japan on Sunday immediately after the cross-country flight.
Puerto Rico starter Nelson Figueroa was the star Friday, blanking Team USA for six innings and allowing just two hits.
Team USA didn’t get its first hit off Figueroa until Brandon Phillips led off the fourth with a single to center. He didn’t advance any further. Figueroa retired the next three batters, including a Joe Mauer on a strikeout and Giancarlo Stanton on a soft pop to first. Stanton saw three fastballs that at-bat, none of which topped 86 miles per hour.
Figueroa, who last pitched in the majors for the Astros on May 9, 2011, bedazzled Team USA with little more than a mid-80s fastball and a slider than hovered in the 78-80 range. The only other hit he allowed was a one-out, Jimmy Rollins single in the sixth.
With two out and Ryan Braun at the plate, Rollins inexplicably took off for second and Yadier Molina threw him out to end the inning.
Team USA never got a runner into scoring position off Figueroa, who starting with a Braun double play to end the first retired 15 of the final 18 batters he faced. He dropped 57 of 82 pitches (69.5 percent) in the zone. All but six of 21 Team USA batters Figueroa faced saw a first-pitch strike.
Once Figueroa exited, Team USA’s offense came around a bit. Mauer tripled with one out in the seventh off lefty Giovanni Soto and scored on a Stanton single. That snapped a 14-inning scoreless streak for Team USA.
Team USA got the tying run to the plate with two outs in the form of Adam Jones. He took a called third strike from Jose De La Torre.
Three of the four hits Team USA starter Ryan Vogelsong gave up came in the first inning. Mike Aviles singled home Puerto Rico’s first run. Vogelsong sandwiched his lone walk of the 5 2/3-inning out between two outs in the sixth.
Vinnie Pestano entered could not retire any of the four batters he faced. Carlos Rivera worked a full count and drew a bases loaded walk, the second in a row Pestano issued.