MIAMI — Trailing late against a star-studded Puerto Rico team, Mexico battled all the way back, stringing together a three-run seventh inning to steal a 5-4 victory in front of a sellout crowd at LoanDepot Park in Friday night’s quarterfinal.
Mexico advanced into the semifinals for the first time in five World Baseball Classic appearances. It will face Japan in Monday’s semifinal.
Puerto Rico, playing in the wake of Edwin Diaz’s sobering knee injury, jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against Mexican ace Julio Urias, getting back-to-back home runs by Javier Baez and Eddie Rosario. But Puerto Rico didn’t muster much offense the rest of the way, and Mexico finally bridged the gap while down to its last seven outs.
Alexis Diaz entered to his brother’s famous walk-out song “Narco” but proceeded to load the bases with none out, giving up a double to Austin Barnes and back-to-back walks to Randy Arozarena and Alex Verdugo. Jorge Lopez came out of the bullpen to record two quick outs. But Isaac Paredes lined a two-run single to left field and Luis Urias dumped a base hit into shallow right, giving Mexico its first lead of the game.
Puerto Rico had a chance to tie it in the eighth, with a runner on first and Emmanuel Rivera uncorking a deep drive to left-center field. Arozarena — the Pool C MVP who seemed to have his fingerprints all over every game Mexico won in this tournament — raced into the gap and made an improbable leaping catch up against the fence, stunning a Miami crowd that seemed to be mostly in favor of Puerto Rico.
As the ball was being thrown back into the infield, Arozarena settled onto the warning track and stretched his arms out wide, his palms exposed and his mouth agape, another signature pose from the Cuban-born outfielder who fell in love with Mexico after defecting there in 2016.