P.R. eliminated by US in heartbreaker

Bullpen strong all game until it falters in ninth, giving up three runs

A ninth-inning meeting on the mound with Fernando Cabrera (right) did not produce desired results. (AP)

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MIAMI -- Baseball has rarely been crueler than it was to Puerto Rico on Tuesday night.

Seeking just three more outs from a bullpen that had been bulletproof throughout the World Baseball Classic, Puerto Rico couldn't get them. Half an inning away from a victory that would have lifted not only a team but an island, it all fell apart.

David Wright's two-run, one-out, walk-off single against reliever Fernando Cabrera in the ninth inning ended a sensational game and sent Puerto Rico to a heartbreaking 6-5 loss at Dolphin Stadium. The victors advanced to Wednesday night's Pool 2 championship game as well as the Classic semifinals next weekend in Los Angeles. The vanquished are eliminated, going back to their regular-season teams after their run came to an end.

"I am proud of the guys," said manager Jose Oquendo. "Of the way, not only the way they played this game, but throughout the tournament. They played hard, they played as they should have. This happens in baseball."

Rarely does it happen quite so coldly, though. Two days earlier, Puerto Rico was the only unbeaten team in the Classic. It had throttled the USA, 11-1, in its second-round opener, and it was set to face Venezuela for a guaranteed berth in the semifinals. Now, thanks to one bad inning from its bullpen -- on a night when the relief corps pitched 5 1/3 exceptional innings -- Puerto Rico is done in the Classic.

"The way baseball is, it takes and it gives," said reliever Nelson Figueroa. "There's some humility with that. We did such a great job the whole while and wanted to pick each other up. Every inning, it seemed like somebody did that for us. To take it all the way down to where we were looking for three more outs to move on, it's difficult to swallow. We had done such a tremendous job up to that point. But we won as a team and we're going down as a team."

It was the second time in as many attempts that Puerto Rico was unable to advance to the semifinals of the Classic, losing instead in the second round of pool play.

Alex Rios' RBI single had given Puerto Rico a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning, and Ramon Vazquez added an RBI single in the top of the ninth to stretch the lead. But J.C. Romero and Cabrera faltered in the bottom of the ninth.

Romero allowed two singles before Derek Jeter flied out, allowing Shane Victorino to tag up and go to third. Brian Roberts stole second and Jimmy Rollins walked, bringing up Kevin Youkilis. That led Oquendo to call on Cabrera, who walked Youkilis to bring home the fourth USA run. Wright ended the game by depositing a bloop single just inside the right-field line for the winner.

"This time, it didn't work out," Oquendo said. "That's part of what happens in baseball."

Rios homered earlier in the game to get Puerto Rico on the board, and Delgado added a two-run homer that tied the game in the fourth.

Starter Jonathan Sanchez endured 2 2/3 shaky innings. The left-hander allowed three runs on five hits, walking two against one strikeout. But the Puerto Rico bullpen, an asset throughout the tournament, performed very well again on Tuesday -- until the ninth.

Figueroa stemmed the USA tide with 2 1/3 shutout, hitless innings in relief of Sanchez. Figueroa struck out Mark DeRosa with runners on second and third to end the third inning and keep the game close. He also got some help from his defense, as Carlos Beltran made a spectacular leaping catch at the wall to steal a home run from Brian McCann. Javier Lopez, Pedro Feliciano and Saul Rivera all chipped in shutout performances, and Romero escaped a jam in the eighth before the U.S. rallied for the win.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.