San Juan. As European Baseball is dominating the early stages of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Puerto Rico avoided an upset against Spain, prevailing 3-0 in each team’s first-round openers at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The host of Pool C in the first round of the WBC had a quick start on Friday late afternoon, scoring three times in the first inning. Angel Pagan led off with a single and moved to second on a sac bunt by Irving Falu. After Alexis Rios got hit by a pitch, Carlos Beltran came through with a double scoring Pagan from second.
Puerto Rico loaded the bases thanks to a fielding error on a groundball to third by Yadier Molina. Mike Aviles followed with a sac fly to double the score. Back-to-back walks by Pedro Valdes and Carlos Rivera plated the third run in the first.
However everybody who now expected a blowout for the favorite got disappointed. Both pitching staffs exchanged zeros the rest of the way, as the two offenses weren’t able to convert few opportunities into runs.
Spain didn’t have a hit until the fourth and had its best scoring chances in the sixth and the seventh. In both occasions the team of manager Mauro Mazzotti put two base runners on with less than two outs. But Paco Figueroa and Jesus Marchan grounded into double plays to end the comeback tries.
Pitching was key in this matchup. Giancarlo Alvarado (W, 1-0) struck out four in four scoreless one-hit innings for the win. Hiram Burgos and Xavier Cedeno (S, 1) closed out the five-hit shutout.
Spain’s starter Sergio Perez (L, 0-1) had its difficulties, allowing three hits, three runs (1 ER) and four walks in two-plus innings. His relievers did a much better job, keeping Puerto Rico’s offense off the board. Richard Salazar impressed with five two-hit, one-walk innings of relief. Eric Gonzalez and Ricardo Hernandez combined to pitch a scoreless eighth.
Spain is going to have a quick turnaround, as they will face the Dominican Republic in the afternoon on Saturday. Puerto Rico will face Venezuela in the evening game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.