MIAMI (AP) — The United States was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic on Friday after falling to Puerto Rico and its 38-year-old pitching star Nelson Figueroa, 4-3.
Figueroa (2-0) dominated the Americans, allowing only a single by Brandon Phillips in the fourth and a single by Jimmy Rollins in the sixth. After throwing his last pitch to end the sixth inning, he leaped off the mound and ran to hug catcher Yadier Molina.
J.C. Romero escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and retired the final four batters for his first save. Center fielder Angel Pagan caught the final out, triggering a pileup of Puerto Rican players behind the mound.
"We were supreme underdogs against that lineup," Figueroa said. "It was motivation to show them what kind of pitcher I was."
Puerto Rico advanced to the semifinals of the WBC for the first time. They'll play the Dominican Republic on Saturday in Miami to determine the seedings for the championship round, which begin Sunday in San Francisco.
Two-time defending champion Japan and the Netherlands round out the final four.
On Thursday, the Dominican Republic dominated the All-Star-laden U.S. lineup, beating the Americans 3-1. The U.S. endured a scoreless streak of 14 innings spanning the two defeats.
"When you play double-elimination, it's a crapshoot," U.S. manager Joe Torre said. "And Figueroa pitched his tail off tonight."
Figueroa has a modest 20-35 record for six teams in nine Major League seasons, with his most recent MLB game in May 2011.
"I don't throw very hard, but I pitch inside," he said. "It was a great exhibition of what can be done without a plus fastball. It was an opportunity to demonstrate that good pitching beats good hitting."
Puerto Rico lost to the United States 7-1 on Tuesday, then staved off elimination Wednesday, rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the eighth inning to beat Italy.
The hits kept coming Friday, and the Puerto Ricans scored all four runs with two outs. Mike Aviles had an RBI single in the first, and Andy Gonzalez doubled home two runs in the sixth.
Ryan Vogelsong (1-1) gave up two runs in 5 2-3 innings for the Americans.
When Figueroa hit the tournament's 80-pitch limit, Giovanni Soto came on and gave up an RBI single to Giancarlo Stanton in the seventh.
Trailing 4-1, the Americans continued their rally in the eighth. Rollins and Phillips singled off Jose De La Torre, and Ryan Braun followed with an RBI double. Joe Mauer walked to load the bases, and with two outs, Fernando Cabrera walked Ben Zobrist to force in a run and make it 4-3. But Eric Hosmer grounded out again to stall the Americans' comeback.
"We were one swing away from winning the game," Braun said.
The crowd of 19,762 was smaller and more subdued than on Thursday when the Dominican Republic transformed the ballpark into a Caribbean carnival by beating the U.S. But Puerto Rican fans honked air horns and waved flags with each hit by their team and each out by the Americans.
"I didn't know how big baseball was in other countries," Phillips said. "And when you see other countries play, it's like, wow, that's why I love playing this game."
Puerto Rico scored in the first inning on a leadoff single by Pagan and two-out singles by Molina and Aviles.
The Puerto Ricans added three runs in the sixth, helped by three walks. Vinny Pestano replaced Vogelsong and walked in a run, then gave up Gonzalez's double.