Puerto Rico too much for Nicaragua in Pool D opener

March 11th, 2023

MIAMI -- The atmosphere at loanDepot park was electric as Francisco Lindor reached first base in the bottom of the fifth inning on Saturday and removed his helmet, ruffled up his curly blond hair and pointed to the Team Puerto Rico dugout along the third-base side of the field.

Lindor had just hit an RBI single to give Puerto Rico a lead it wouldn't relinquish as it kicked off Pool D play in the World Baseball Classic with a 9-1 win over Nicaragua.

“It was amazing,” Lindor said of the environment. “[I] looked around [at all the fans], and then exactly the moment when the ball was going to be thrown, I'm paying attention. ... I feed off that, we feed off that.

“It's such an amazing feeling when everyone in that locker room has a similar background, when everyone around feeds off that. … We always tell each other, ‘We go out there and just put on a show.’”

Put on a show they did, and the cheers in response were deafening. Puerto Rico had come to play. Lindor went 2-for-4 with that RBI and two runs scored. The all-blond “Team Rubio” came out swinging behind their leadoff man, who was one of four hitters with two or more knocks against a Nicaraguan team making its first Classic appearance.

It helped that Team PR starter Marcus Stroman had held Nicaragua to one hit over 4 2/3 innings before allowing a solo homer to Elian Miranda in the fifth. Stroman relied on his sinker for more than half of his pitches (34 of 65), while utilizing his slider and cutter to get swings and misses.

“In this type of tournament, you’ve got to get ahead and you’ve got to pound the zone early,” Stroman said. “I trust my sinker more than anything, so I got that pitch going -- and obviously [having] these guys behind me gives me more confidence throwing my sinker, because I feel like anytime they put it in play, it's going to be an out.”

It also helped that Puerto Rico responded with a five-run bottom of the inning, then three more runs in the bottom of the seventh.

Nicaraguan starter Carlos Rodriguez held his own, allowing just one run on two hits with three strikeouts over four innings.

But once Rodriguez was out, Puerto Rico put up eight runs against the ‘pen. It started when Christian Vázquez worked a walk after falling behind in the count 0-2 with one out in the fifth inning. That set up a picture-perfect hit-and-run as Martín Maldonado -- affectionately known as “Machete” -- ripped a single up the middle past second baseman Alex Blandino.

Vázquez and Maldonado each racked up two hits, and Vázquez tallied two RBIs. Manager Yadier Molina credited Vázquez’s work-from-behind walk for kick-starting the Puerto Rico offense.

"[The walk was] very good. That's when everything [shifted]," Molina said. "It was like 1-2, 0-2 -- he was down, so great at-bat by him. It started everything. And then Machete with the hit-and-run. It was good. That was a great at-bat by him.

"We have to play one game at a time. Now we have to see what the result is [tonight] in the game between Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and this is our mindset. We are going to play game after game, one game at a time."

Next on the agenda: Nicaragua takes on Team Israel on Sunday at noon ET on FS2, before Puerto Rico and Venezuela face off at 7 p.m. ET. on FS1.