LOS ANGELES (AP) – Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina‘s defense saved Puerto Rico from a potential grand slam in the first inning when Wladimir Balentien’s homer helped the Netherlands to a 2-0 lead, giving orange-clad fans a reason to cheer.
“For me, that was the game,” Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “Yadier Molina came to play.”
It took 11 innings between Puerto Rico and the Netherlands to decide who would earn a spot in the 2017 World Baseball Classic Championship. Eventually, Puerto Rico won 4-3, Monday night.
Molina capitalized on two baserunning blunders by the Dutch.
To start the game, Jorge Lopez allowed a leadoff single to Andrelton Simmons and hit Xander Bogaerts with a pitch. Simmons later wandered off the bag toward third and Molina threw to second, but Simmons couldn’t get back in time and got caught in a rundown.
Jurickson Profar singled to right, but was slow getting back to first while celebrating and was picked off by Molina, who took Rosario’s relay from the outfield. Balentien followed with his mammoth, two-out home run, and celebrated with a bat flip.
It would have been a 4-0 lead, if not for Molina’s throws.
“Frustrating for me is the mental errors that we committed,” Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. “We talked to the guys before the game about the experience of Yadier Molina behind the plate. If you get too far off, he’ll pick you off, and that’s what happened. Then Jurickson getting the base hit, celebrating and not getting back to the base, that’s unacceptable. That could have been the difference in us winning or not.”
Puerto Rico will play either two-time champion Japan or the United States for the title on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. The Puerto Ricans also reached the final in 2013, losing to the Dominican Republic 3-0.
Puerto Rico has outscored its opponents 55-18 while going 7-0 in this year’s tournament.
The blond Puerto Rican players, who dyed their hair in a show of unity that has caught on back home, jumped up and down after a lively, emotional and sometimes-testy semifinal that included four replay reviews during the fourth and fifth innings of a game that lasted 4 hours, 19 minutes.
Washington Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark will start for the United States against Japan in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night. The Americans are trying to reach the championship game for the first time in four editions of the WBC.
Conditions in Los Angeles will be considerably cooler, with rain in the forecast on Tuesday and Wednesday and temperatures around 65 degrees.
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