It didn’t have to work out that way, but two teams went into the finals with perfect records and faced off against the two second place teams from the first two rounds. In the first game of the finals on Monday night, the Netherlands faced team Puerto Rico, who went 6-0 during the first two rounds. This time, however, a single loss would mean the end for either team as only one could advance to face the winner of Japan vs USA.
Both teams’ starters would have a rough beginning to this game as neither would make it through the third. As the home team, Puerto Rico’s Jorge Lopez went first and allowed a single and hit a batter to begin the game. At this point, Yadier Molina helped out his pitcher by catching Andrealton Simmons trying to steal third, then picking Jurickson Profar off first after he had singled. This play with Profar was particularly important as the runner was celebrating his single and not paying attention as Molina threw behind the runner and stole an out. Immediately after, Wladimir Balentien took Lopez deep for a two run home run that could have been a grand slam if everyone had just stayed on the base they earned.
Puerto Rico would come back in the bottom half thanks to a pair of short stops. Francisco Lindor hit a one out double, then Carlos Correa knocked him in with a home run off Rick Van Den Hurk to tie the game. Van Den Hurk would give up a home run in the second inning as well, this time to first baseman T.J. Rivera to give Puerto Rico the lead.
Long after both starters had been pulled, some more interesting baserunning cost the Netherlands. In the fifth, Balentien hit a two out double, which was followed by an intentional walk of Jonathan Schoop. Shawn Zarraga then doubled to left and, while Balentien easily scored the tying run, Schoop was thrown out at the plate despite beating the throw as he didn’t get his front foot down.
The game would remain tied until the 11th when the special extra innings rules for the WBC took place. While Puerto Rico was able to execute the perfect inning for this situation (sacrifice bunt, intentional walk and double play), the Netherlands were unable to finish it out and a sac fly to center by Eddie Rosario scored Carlos Correa to walk off and push Puerto Rico to the championship game.
In the second semi-final game, the undefeated team was unable to match Puerto Rico with a 7-0 record. Team USA got up first on Japan with an Andrew McCutcheon single in the fourth that scored Christian Yelich. This run was unearned, however, and Japan’s starting pitcher, Tomoyuki Sugano, would pitch six full innings without allowing an earned run.
Tanner Roark would match him through four, but the first reliever into the fray, Nate Jones, would allow a solo home run to Ryosuke Kikuchi in the sixth to tie the game. With this game looking like it could be heading to extras like the first semi-final, Brandon Crawford singled in the eighth, then went to third on an Ian Kinsler double. The hero of the early rounds, Adam Jones hit a ground ball to third that was bobbled, allowing Crawford to score the go ahead run. With Andrew Miller, Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon, Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson throwing in relief, team USA allowed just one hit and two walks in the final 3.2 innings as they closed out Japan to move on to the finals.
Puerto Rico and team USA will play tonight as Puerto Rico looks to make up for their loss in the finals in 2013 and team USA plays in the finals for the first time ever. One thing is for certain, since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, this USA has already proven to be the greatest baseball powerhouse in the world and will be the champion either way.