Mexico defeats Puerto Rico to advance to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic

Mexico defeats Puerto Rico to advance to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic

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  • March 18, 2023
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MIAMI — They had rallied all the way back and eliminated an early four-run deficit, but if Mexico were to advance to their first semifinals of the World Baseball Classic and eliminate a star-studded Puerto Rico team, another big play had to be made .

Randy Arozarena delivered it, of course.

Arozarena clung to a one-run lead in the eighth inning of Friday night’s quarterfinals game, sped near the fence at left midfield and made an unlikely leap to catch him, erasing a game-determining extra base hit and helping Mexico , his adopted home, to cling to a 5-4 win in front of a sold-out crowd at LoanDepot Park.

Arozarena became a household name and dominated throughout the 2020 postseason. When his Tampa Bay Rays made it to the World Series, he hit three home runs. Arozarena was reminded of that late Friday night and asked to identify his best moment at a baseball field.

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“2023, World Baseball Classic, eighth inning, that catch,” he said in Spanish, drawing laughter from a crowded interview room.

Arozarena, 28, was born and raised in Cuba. In 2015 he left the island and came to Mexico, where he played winter ball, had a daughter and fell in love with his new homeland. He became a Mexican citizen last April just because he wanted to represent the nation at this World Baseball Classic — and he’s taken full advantage.

Arozarena was Pool C’s MVP, going 7-for-14 while driving in nine carries and scoring six more as Mexico won three of their four games. Then he made the biggest play in arguably the biggest game in Mexican baseball history, sending Mexico into a semifinal game against powerhouse Japan on Monday.

“I feel incredible,” said Arozarena. “I’ve had some incredible moments for my career.”

Puerto Rico, playing after Edwin Diaz’s sobering knee injury, took a 4-0 first-inning lead over Mexican ace Julio Urias, with Javier Baez and Eddie Rosario hitting back-to-back homers. But Puerto Rico didn’t muster much offense the rest of the way, and Mexico eventually bridged the gap while going down on their last seven outs.

Alexis Diaz performed to his brother’s famous walk-out song, “Narco,” but continued to load bases with no out, gave Austin Barnes a double and back-to-back walks to Arozarena and Alex Verdugo. Jorge Lopez came out of the bullpen to record two quick outs. But Isaac Paredes lined a two-run single into left field and Luis Urias threw a base hit into shallow right field, giving Mexico their first lead of the game.

Edwin Diaz, who tore the patellar tendon in his right knee during Puerto Rico’s on-pitch celebrations after their win against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night, reached out to Alexis after the game to tell him he went through similar situations in 2019 had. He told him to block out all outside noise and keep believing in himself.

“It was really painful for me,” said Alexis Diaz, who appeared to be on the verge of tears at not having his brother with him. “I wanted the two of us to be together at the Classic. Not having him here was really hard for me. But I’m a warrior and I got out there. I couldn’t achieve what I wanted, but I’m going to go further this season.”

Puerto Rico had a chance to avenge Diaz and tie the game in the following inning, with a first-place runner and Emmanuel Rivera uncorking a deep drive into left midfield. But Arozarena, who has wowed fans with his game and dazzled his teammates with his cowboy boots throughout this tournament, wouldn’t want it. After securing the catch and throwing the baseball back infield, Arozarena sat on the warning lane and stretched his arms wide, palms free and mouth open, another signature pose of the Cuban-born outfielder who fell in love with Mexico .

Mexico coach Benji Gil said: “He’s a boy who is incredibly focused on doing everything in his power to help this family of Mexican warriors get a chance to play a World Cup.”

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