Puerto Rico won the game, but lost one of their best players.
Cristian Vazquez homered to power a four-run third inning, Francisco Lindor circled the bases on an error and Puerto Rico beat the Dominican Republic, 5-2, on Wednesday to advance to the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals. The victory quickly turned sour, though, when closer Edwin Diaz suffered an apparent leg injury in the postgame celebration after the final out and had to be carried off the field.
Puerto Rico will face Mexico in the quarterfinals in Miami on either Friday or Saturday, pending the outcome of the Pool C finale between Colombia and Team USA. The Dominican Republic, the favorite entering the tournament, is eliminated with the loss.
The two countries are separated by 40 miles and share much of the same culture in terms of food, music and an exuberant passion for baseball. That was reflected in the raucous sold out crowd at loanDepot Park in Miami. Throughout the game there was an air of excitement set behind a soundtrack of ambient noise.
Like two heavyweight fighters trading blows in the middle of the ring, Puerto Rico landed punches against the Dominicans early and often. Vazquez got it started when he turned around a 90 mph fastball from Dominican starter Johnny Cueto in the third inning and deposited it in the left field bullpen to put Puerto Rico ahead 1-0.
Vimael Machin followed with a lined single to left and Martin Maldonado laid down a well-placed bunt to reach safely. Dominican manager Rodney Linares brought in Astros fireballer Bryan Abreu in relief, but it didn’t stop the bleeding. Linor welcomed Abreu to the game with an RBI single and Enrique Hernández followed with another RBI single to make it 3-0. MJ Melendez followed with an RBI groundout to give Puerto Rico a commanding four-run lead.
Juan Soto answered for the Dominicans with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the third, but that was all they could muster.
Puerto Rico caught a break in the top of the fifth. Lindor’s singled to center was misplayed by Julio Rodriguez and rolled all the way to the wall in center, allowing Lindor to motor home for a Little League-style home run. Lindor slid head first into home and was greeted by his exhilarated teammates, producing one of the more photogenic moments of the tournament.
The Dominican Republic railed in the fifth and loaded the bases with no outs for Manny Machado, but Puerto Rico reliever Alexis Diaz induced a rally-killing double play. Diaz then got Red Sox…
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