Puerto Rico cruises past United States
Beltran leads offensive onslaught in mercy-rule victory
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Every Puerto Rican hitter scored a run, drove in a run or both. Seven of the nine had at least one hit, and in total, Puerto Rico amassed 13 hits and four walks despite not completing seven full turns at bat. Two-time All-Star Jake Peavy, who started for Team USA, barely got out of the second inning.
"It was a group-type game," said center fielder Carlos Beltran, the offensive star of the game if you had to name just one. "Good pitching, good offensively, good defense. When you put all those things together, you have lots of chances to win ballgames, and thank God I felt good at the plate."
Geographically, Puerto Rico was the visiting team, playing on United States soil. But by any other measure, the team in the white uniforms was very much the home club. Of an announced crowd of 30,539, a good two-thirds sounded as though it was cheering for Puerto Rico, which also benefited from having the last turn at bat.
Whatever support the USA may have had from its home-nation crowd dissipated quickly when Puerto Rico jumped out to a 6-0 lead against Peavy and his mates.
"We felt as if we were playing in Puerto Rico," Beltran said. "There was great support. I wasn't expecting that it would be as it was. I thought there were going to be more Americans. ... We're in the U.S. but I appreciate the support, and we thank the Puerto Rican fans for having supported us because we really do this both for them and for Puerto Rico."
Beltran led the assault with three hits including a home run, a walk, three runs scored and two RBIs, but he had tons of help. Felipe Lopez cranked a mammoth two-run homer and an RBI double, Carlos Delgado drove in two runs and Ramon Vazquez scored twice. The final, mercy-rule-triggering runs came off the bat of Mike Aviles, who deposited a two-run single into shallow right field.
It made for appropriate symmetry because Aviles had been the only Puerto Rican hitter without an RBI or a run up to that point.
And then there was starting pitcher Javier Vazquez, who stifled a potent United States lineup. Vazquez lasted five innings, holding the USA to a run on four hits, striking out two without walking a batter. He was all but untouched through the first four innings before escaping a two-on, one-out jam in the fifth.
"As a pitcher on our team, scoring early gives me a little breather to keep going," Vazquez said, "a little bit of confidence, and the guys did a great job scoring six runs off Jake Peavy in the first two innings. That gives you a little breathing room knowing that if you make a mistake, it really doesn't matter that much."
Three of the first four batters of the game singled for Puerto Rico, with Delgado's RBI knock and Alex Rios' sacrifice fly making it 2-0 in the first. An inning later, Geovany Soto drew a leadoff walk and Lopez homered for a 4-0 lead, Beltran beat out an infield single for the fifth run and Delgado's grounder to short made it 6-0.
The runs kept coming even after Peavy was out of the game. Beltran made the seventh tally happen in the fifth inning when he walked, tagged up on a fly ball and scored on Ivan Rodriguez's double. Beltran led off the seventh with a solo homer against Matt Thornton, and after two outs, his teammates hung the remaining three runs on Thornton with two doubles, a walk and Aviles' game-ender.
The USA made it interesting only once, when it put runners on second and third with one out and one in against Vazquez in the fifth. But Vazquez struck out Mark DeRosa and got Shane Victorino to fly out, ending the chance.
"That was a big inning, especially for Javy," Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo said. "He worked hard in that inning to get out. He did what he had to do in that inning."
Puerto Rico will face Venezuela on Monday night in the winners' bracket of Pool 2 of the Classic. The winner of that game will be guaranteed a spot in the semifinals next weekend at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.