MIAMI — Over the last few years, Mexico has methodically risen as a baseball power.
Mexico reached the Olympics for the first time at the Tokyo Games in 2021. It won Pool C at the World Baseball Classic this year, pummeling Team USA on its home turf. Long a source for talented pitchers, it has produced a steady stream of position players in recent years like Alejandro Kirk, Luis Urias and Isaac Paredes.
And now, for the first time, Mexico is going to the WBC semifinals.
Paredes delivered the game-tying two-run single in the seventh inning, Urias followed with the go-ahead RBI single and Mexico stormed back from a four-run deficit to beat Puerto Rico, 5-4, in the WBC quarterfinals on Friday.
Mexico will face Japan in the semifinals on Monday. Puerto Rico, the two-time defending runners-up, is eliminated.
“We are showing what Mexican players are capable of at the highest level,” Mexico manager Benji Gil said in Spanish. “I wish this would continue to open doors. Maybe before the tournament you could say, could Mexico play with Puerto Rico? Could they compete versus Team USA?…The answer could have been, no.
“Right now, we can say easily that Mexico can compete against any other team, or at least this group of warriors can compete against any other team. It’s a blessing to be able to be part and to have a little piece by guiding them, by leading them, as Mexican warriors.”
Mexico never let up despite a poor start.
Puerto Rico jumped on Mexico starter Julio Urias to take a 4-0 lead in the first inning, powered by back-to-back home runs from Javier Baez and Eddie Rosario. With their ace battered and a vibrant, sellout crowd largely rallying behind Puerto Rico, Mexico’s outlook was grim.
Slowly but surely, Mexico chipped away. Julio Urias rebounded to keep Puerto Rico scoreless the remainder of his outing. Paredes hit a solo home run in the second to get Mexico on the board. Alex Verdugo blooped a one-out, bases-loaded single into shallow center in the fifth to make it 4-2 and chase Puerto Rico starter Marcus Stroman from the game.
They broke through in the seventh. In what could have been a storybook moment, Puerto Rico brought in Alexis Diaz to start the inning. Diaz, the younger brother of injured Puerto Rico closer Edwin Diaz, entered to his brother’s famous entrance song, “Narco” and the crowd went wild when the video board showed a picture of Edwin Diaz’s jersey hanging in the Puerto Rico dugout.
Instead, the fairy tale quickly unraveled….
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