Cuba, Venezuela prevail in WBC
Ramon Hernandez trotted home with a big run following a 10-minute delay, and now he and his Venezuela teammates are bound for Los Angeles and the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic.
Hernandez, acquired by the Cincinnati Reds in a trade with Baltimore in the off-season, was awarded a home run following a replay review Monday night, and Venezuela delighted a cacophonous crowd of 25,599 by beating Puerto Rico 2-0 to secure a spot in the final four.
Puerto Rico lost for the first time in five WBC games and will face the United States on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET, with the loser eliminated and the winner advancing to the semifinals this weekend at Dodger Stadium.
The game offers Team USA a chance to avenge an 11-1 loss to Puerto Rico on Saturday that triggered the mercy rule, ending the rout in the seventh inning.
"The United States is going to come ready," said Puerto Rican catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who reportedly is closing in on a contract with the Houston Astros.
"The 11-1 game is over. It was a great game for us, but Tuesday is a brand new 0-0 game."
Rodriguez's team never got on the board Monday.
Felix Hernandez and four relievers combined on a five-hitter and stranded 10 runners against Puerto Rico, which came in to the game batting .341.
Francisco Rodriguez retired all four batters he faced for his third save in the tournament.
Carlos Guillen singled home the first run in the third, and Ramon Hernandez doubled the margin in the seventh — but only after much confusion.
"I was thinking, 'Why does it have to happen to me?' " Ramon Hernandez said. "I hit the ball good, definitely nobody catches it, and it starts a big question if it's a homer or not."
Second-base umpire Mark Wegner ruled Hernandez's long drive to left-centre in play when the ball ricocheted back onto the field, and he sprinted to third base for an apparent leadoff triple.
But replays clearly showed the ball clearing the scoreboard and bouncing off retracted bleachers.
Cuba 7, Mexico 4
Cuba will stick around the WBC for at least one more game, thanks to Frederich Cepeda's smoking-hot bat.
Cepeda was 3-for-4 with a walk and four runs batted in, including a bases-clearing double in the fifth inning, in leading Cuba to a 7-4 win over Mexico on Monday night in an elimination game at San Diego.
Cepeda is tied for the lead in the WBC with a .600 average (12-20) and tops all batters with 10 RBIs.
The game drew a crowd of only 9,329 to 42,000-seat Petco Park, even though San Diego is just across the border from Tijuana and three members of the hometown Padres play for Mexico.
Cuba will play another elimination game Wednesday night against the loser of Tuesday night's game between Japan and South Korea.
The winner between Japan and South Korea qualifies for Saturday's semifinal at Dodger Stadium.
Cuba made it to the championship game of the inaugural WBC in 2006 at Petco Park, but lost 10-6 to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Japan.
Cuba starter Norge Luis Vera left the game during the bottom of the fifth when he appeared to hurt his lower right leg.
Vera's right leg buckled on his follow-through after a pitch to Freddy Sandoval and he fell to the ground.
After being tended to, Vera walked off the field with team doctor Antonio Castro, who is the son of former Cuban president Fidel Castro.
Vera (2-0) went 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and three hits while striking out five and walking two.
With the score tied 2-2, Cuba loaded the bases in the fifth on two singles and a walk before Cepeda doubled to the base of the wall in right-centre off Jorge Campillo of the Atlanta Braves to clear the bases.
Yoennis Cespedes added a two-run triple in the seventh.
Campillo (1-1) allowed five runs and eight hits in four innings.
Yulieski Gourriel singled in Cuba's first run in the first, and Cepeda hit an RBI single in the third.
Jorge Cantu homered in the eighth and Christian Presichi in the ninth for Mexico, both off Pedro Lazo, who got the save in going the final 4 1/3 innings after Vera got hurt.
Mexico also got runs on Sandoval's single in the third and Scott Hairston's groundout in the fourth.
Mexico finished 2-4 in the WBC and lost twice to Cuba.