Team USA has shown throughout the 2017 World Baseball Classic that it will keep fighting until the final out is recorded. Now the Americans will have to test their fortitude one more time when they take on the Dominican Republic in a must-win game on Saturday night (10 ET on
Team USA has shown throughout the 2017 World Baseball Classic that it will keep fighting until the final out is recorded. Now the Americans will have to test their fortitude one more time when they take on the Dominican Republic in a must-win game on Saturday night (10 ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV).
With late-inning rallies against Colombia and Venezuela already in its pocket, Team USA tried to steal another late-game comeback out from under Puerto Rico on Friday night in San Diego. Trailing, 6-3, heading into the ninth, the U.S. put up a furious rally before falling, 6-5, with the tying run on third base. The loss sealed the top seed in Pool F for undefeated Puerto Rico and sent the U.S. into a win-or-go-home battle against the Dominicans.
Team USA found itself on the defensive from the game's opening pitch, as Puerto Rico strung together six consecutive hits. In the blink of an eye, the Americans trailed, 4-0.
"I thought they gave [starting pitcher] Marcus [Stroman] some really good, tough at-bats in the first inning," said Team USA manager Jim Leyland. "He made some good pitches. [A] couple balls hit decent; [a] couple balls they did a great job of hitting. Put the ball in play, and they fell in."
The U.S. came back with three runs of their own, on an RBI single by Eric Hosmer and solo home runs from Buster Posey and Adam Jones.
Puerto Rico applied more pressure in the sixth, however, pulling off a double steal to put runners on second and third for Angel Pagan, who hit a ground ball to U.S. third baseman Nolan Arenado. The play appeared to be routine at first for Arenado -- a Gold Glove winner in each of his first four Major League seasons -- before a bad hop off the lip of the infield grass elevated the ball toward his head. Arenado reacted quickly to glove the ball but proceeded to throw it past first baseman Hosmer. That allowed another two runs to score for Puerto Rico, stretching their lead to 6-3.
"That's part of the ballgame," Leyland said of the error. "That's the human element of baseball. You know, that's a great third baseman."
That set the stage for a frenzied top of the ninth, which began with a leadoff walk of Arenado by Puerto Rico closer Edwin Diaz. Hosmer followed with a sharp single to right to put two runners on and send the tying run to the plate, but Diaz countered with swinging strikeouts of Posey and Paul Goldschmidt.
The Americans were down to their final out when shortstop Brandon Crawford lifted a 95.8-mph fastball from Diaz into the gap in left-center. With an exit velocity of 103.3 mph and a launch angle of 20.8 degrees, Crawford's shot had a hit probability of 72 percent, according to Statcast™. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico left fielder Pagan needed to cover 83 feet within an opportunity time of just 4.5 seconds to reach the ball's landing spot, giving him a catch probability of just 24 percent, while center fielder Enrique Hernandez, stationed even farther away from the ball, had a likelihood of just one percent to catch the ball, per Statcast™ metrics. It was a perfect storm for Crawford, who saw his hit land between Pagan and Hernandez to score two runs for the U.S. and cut Puerto Rico's lead to just one.
Though Arenado and Hosmer scored, the rally should have ended at third base, as Crawford appeared to be tagged out by Puerto Rico's Carlos Correa. He was called safe, however, and with replay only available to determine home run calls for the second round, the call stood. That set the stage for Pirates' second baseman Josh Harrison to play hero for Team USA, as Crawford -- the tying run -- stood just 90 feet away. Harrison worked Diaz to a 2-2 count, but the Mariners' hard-throwing righty got Harrison to pull the string on a slider, ending the game with a heart-breaking strikeout.
When the dust had settled, the triumphant Puerto Ricans could celebrate a trip to the semifinals, while the Americans simply couldn't overcome the totality of their early mistakes. Though Team USA could hold its head high after battling to the bitter end on Friday, a stark reality remains -- the U.S. must find a way to overcome the mighty Dominicans for a chance to play on in Los Angeles.
"It's pretty simple," said Leyland. "We've got to win a game."
The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games in San Diego's Petco Park and the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.