Mexico fell behind Puerto Rico early and never caught up in their World Baseball Classic Pool D game Saturday, as the Puerto Ricans went on to win, 9-4, to clinch a berth in the WBC's second round in San Diego. Francisco Lindor had three hits and three RBIs for the winners, including a pair of homers, as Puerto Rico raised their first-round record to 2-0. Mexico fell to 0-2 as 15,647 looked on at Guadalajara's Estadio Charros.
Puerto Rico got off to a fast start in the top of the first inning when Angel Pagan led off with a single, followed by Francisco Lindor homer to right off Miguel Angel Gonzalez to take an early 2-0 lead. Mexico got one run back in the bottom of the first when Esteban Quiroz drew a leadoff walk off Boricuan starter Jorge Lopez, moved to second when Luis Juarez lined a single to right, advanced to third on Adrian Gonzalez' grounder to short, with Juarez forced out at second, and scored on a single by Brandon Laird (pictured). That would be the only run Lopez allowed in his 59-pitch start before he was replaced by Hector Santiago with one out in the fifth.
The favored Puerto Ricans scored again in the third when Carlos Beltran's liner up the middle plated Pagan with his second run of the night, and then opened a 4-1 lead after Reymond Fuentes came in on Carlos Correa's sacrifice fly to center. Gonzalez began the frame by walking both Fuentes and Pagan before Mexico skipper Edgar Gonzalez replaced him with Jake Sanchez, who later gave up the Beltran single that scored Pagan, a run charged to pitcher Gonzalez. Lindor then hit his second homer of the night in the top of the seventh off Yankees prospect Giovanny Gallegos to add one more run to Puerto Rico's lead at 5-1.
Mexico showed some fight in the bottom of the seventh, though. After leading off with a two-strike double, Laird moved to third on an Efren Navarro single and scored on Chris Roberson's one-bagger two put the score at 5-2. Xorge Carrillo then sent a grounder to third baseman Correa, who threw to second to force Roberson but the ball sailed into right field, allowing Navarro to come around from second to score with Roberson taking third to put Mexican runners at the corners with one out. Puerto Rican pitcher Santiago struck out Manny Rodriguez on four pitches for the second out, creating a little breathing room for working against Alex Verdugo. During the encounter, Santiago uncorked a wild pitch that Yadier Molina couldn't flag down, allowing Roberson to score from third to narrow Puerto Rico's lead to 5-4. Verdugo eventually tapped a full-count comebacker to Santiago on the mound for the easy toss to first for the final out.
Fernando Salas replaced Gallegos on the hill for Mexico in the top of the eighth and tossed a scoreless inning but once again, trouble arrived in the ninth for the Verdes Grande. Miguel Aguilar pitched to two batters, getting Pagan to ground out to short and letting up a Lindor singles, before Royals reliever Joakim Soria was brought in. Soria induced Correa to fly out to right for the second out before walking Beltran and giving up a Molina single that scored Lindor before serving up a three-run homer to left center by Javier Baez. Facing a 9-4 deficit, Mexico put runners on second and first with nobody out against young Mariners closer Edwin Diaz in the bottom of the ninth, but Carrillo struck out and Rodriguez lined into a double play to end the game.
Laird and Juarez each had two of Mexico's seven hits, with Laird's double the only extra-base knock. The Nippon Ham Fighters slugger, who was the 2016 Japan Series MVP, scored once and drove in a run. Lindor went 3-for-5 for Puerto Rico, with three runs and three ribbies. Lopez got the win for Puerto Rico while Gonzalez absorbed the loss for Mexico.
In Saturday's first game, Venezuela nipped Italy, 11-10, in ten innings as both nations evened out their Pool D records at 1-1. Martin Prado went a perfect 5-for-5 for the winners, knocking out a pair of doubles, including the game-winner in the top of the tenth, a line drive up the middle off Trey Nielsen than scored Jose Altuve with the go-ahead run. Padres farmhand Jose Castillo pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the tenth for the save while Francisco Rodriguez got the win.
A hush fell over the crowd of 12,187 following a collision at home plate in the ninth when Italy's Drew Butera awkwardly ran into Venezuela catcher Salvador Perez, injuring Perez' knee. The play developed after two outs as Alex Liddi singled off Rodriguez and was replaced at first base by Drew Maggi, followed by a walk to Butera and then a single up the middle by Gavin Cecchini that scored Maggi to tie the game at 10-10. Butera tried to come in all the way from first but reached home plate just behind a relay throw to Perez from Rodriguez. Butera, like Perez a Royals catcher, tried to avoid his All-Star teammate in KC but fell into Perez' knee on the play. Perez was helped off the field and to a local hospital for an MRI.
Sunday's day-night doubleheader will get underway at 1:30 CDT (1930 UTC) when Italy meets Puerto Rico, followed by the nightcap at 8:00pm CDT (0200 UTC) when Mexico takes on Venezuela.