LOS ANGELES – The Puerto Rican players swarmed Eddie Rosario, pushing and pulling, grabbing at his jersey and patting the top his head and the hair he’d dyed blond, like the rest of the team. Behind home plate, Francisco Lindor was off on his own, stripping off his jersey and holding it high, so everyone could see “Puerto Rico” stitched across the front.
They played, and then celebrated, as if this game meant everything. Because of that spirit, now they’ll actually get to play for everything.
Rosario lifted a ball into the night sky deep enough to score the winning run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 11th, and Puerto Rico outlasted the Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic on Monday night at Dodger Stadium.
“I think, if not the best . . . I haven’t seen every game of the tournament, but this game, it was a great game,” said Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez. “It was very well played, both sides, and defense and execution won the game today.”
Puerto Rico will be playing in its second consecutive WBC final on Wednesday, and looking to succeed where it failed in 2013. The Puerto Ricans will face the winner of Tuesday’s semifinal between Japan and the United States.
The victory came under the WBC tiebreaker rules, which state that teams begin the 11th inning with runners on first and second.
The Dutch started the top of 11th with Wladimir Balentien on second and Jonathan Schoop on first.
Pinch hitter Stijn van der Meer moved the runners over with a sacrifice bunt, and Yurendell de Caster was intentionally walked to load the bases. Curt Smith lined a ball to Javier Baez, who started a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
“We had the opportunity with the bases loaded and one out, and we were unable to do what they did with that sacrifice fly,” said Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens.
Carlos Correa was on second and Kike Hernandez on first for the bottom of the 11th. Yadier Molina bunted the runners over and the Dutch walked Baez. Rosario then won it with his sac fly.
The game may not have gotten to the 11th without the efforts of Molina behind the plate in the first. Molina twice picked off Dutch runners on the basepaths in the opening frame, the first after Andrelton Simmons strayed too far off second after a missed bunt attempt and the second when Jurickson Profar was caught off first while celebrating his single.
“For me, that was the game,” Rodriguez said. “That first inning that Yadi Molina did what he did, for me, that was the game. Then again, Yadier Molina came to play.”
The Puerto Ricans are riding a wave of momentum, having won all seven of their games, and look like the best team in the tournament.
“It means a lot because Puerto Ricans are going through a very difficult (economic) situation currently, and we were able to unite our country,” said Correa, who hit a game-tying two-run homer in the first inning.
The Puerto Ricans are playing as one. The team is unified, and that unity has spilled out of the clubhouse and into the stands and all the way back home. The most visible sign is that the players have all dyed their hair blond as a sign of team bonding.
“Well, we wanted to do this to unite the team and then the people of Puerto Rico,” said pitcher Edwin Diaz. “Then the people in Puerto Rico, they started dyeing their hair too. I saw that there were some students who were suspended from school. I don’t think they should be (suspended) because it just means that we have united our nation.”
Diaz was the winning pitcher after two scoreless innings of relief. Loek van Mil was charged with the loss.
Lindor had three hits for the Puerto Ricans and Correa was one of three players to finish with two.
Puerto Rico’s win brought an end to Balentien’s scorching run at the WBC. The Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger finished 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs on Monday. He was 16-for-26 with four home runs and 12 RBIs during the WBC.
The Dutch fell in the semifinal round for the second straight WBC and lost in a tiebreak situation for the second time in this Classic.
Tempers flared briefly in the 10th, when Balentien was angered by a pitch from Diaz that he felt was too close to his head, though cooler heads prevailed without incident.
Puerto Rico will now wait to see who its opponent will be in the final. Rodriguez has already decided Seth Lugo will get the start for his team. Lugo said he’ll try to glean what he can from watching Tuesday’s game.
“The U.S. team, I know most of those hitters, I’ve pitched to a lot of them before.” Lugo said. “The Japanese team, maybe see what their hitters’ tendencies are, stuff like that, see how they play their games.”