Jeff PassanESPN4 minutes read
MIAMI — Puerto Rico edged out favorites Dominican Republic in a 5-2 win Wednesday night in front of a packed 36,025 crowd at LoanDepot Park at the World Baseball Classic. But the celebratory mood was short-lived.
While Puerto Rico advanced to the quarterfinals, they likely continue the tournament without Edwin Díaz, the all-star closer for the New York Mets, who injured his right knee after converting the save and left the players after what should into a palpable shock was an exciting victory.
In a battle between two Latin American powerhouses, the team with the signature dyed-blonde hair prevailed, escaping Pool D’s death group and setting up a quarter-final showdown against Pool C winners Mexico on Saturday night, after Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic lost previously against Pool D winners Venezuela, a game that was already generating tremendous emotional impact took on even greater prominence as a win-or-home affair.
With hooting of vuvuzelas and flags flying and a man tucking a plantain into the waistband of his jeans, a homage to the platano Power, who led the DR to the championship in 2013 in a matchup between teams, demanded revenge on Puerto Rico. Gone, due to a four-run burst in the third inning by Puerto Rico, was a Dominican Republic team whose lineup included Juan Soto, Julio Rodríguez, Manny Machado and Rafael Devers, along with a series of devastating weapons that made it the favorite made the fifth edition of the tournament win.
No matter to Puerto Rico. Led by manager Yadier Molina, the ten-time All-Star who caught for the team that lost to the United States in the finals at the last WBC in 2017, Puerto Rico rode five straight wins to start the third and never looked back .
Christian Vazquez started with a home run from DR starter Johnny Cueto. Vimael Machin clapped a single to the left, Martin Maldonado dropped a colorful single, Francisco Lindor drove a single to the left in Machin, and Enrique Hernández slammed Maldonado with a Baltimore chop single over Machado’s head. An RBI groundout by MJ Melendez gave Puerto Rico a 4-0 advantage.
Soto sliced in with a Titanic shot to start the bottom of the third Jovani Moran, launching a fastball 448 feel from 92mph to dead center. Puerto Rico responded when Lindor hit the middle in the fifth and Rodríguez misplayed the ball that dribbled to the wall, allowing Lindor to book around the bases and extend the lead to 5-1.
The end of the fifth provided the last opportunity for the DR. Against Alexis Díaz, they loaded the bases with two walks and a single. With no outs and no loaded bases, Machado entered. A shot later he landed in a double play. Although a run was scored, Díaz escaped the rest of the inning undamaged, and Puerto Rico’s bullpen held on until the ninth inning.
As the bullpen door swung open, out came Alexis’ brother Edwin, baseball’s best closer – accompanied by “Narco,” the opening music that usually accompanies him at Citi Field. Díaz went on to beat Ketel Marte, Jean Segura and Teoscar Hernández.
Diaz was soon swarmed by teammates after the final; The group jumped together in infield when Díaz fell to the ground near the pitcher’s mound and he immediately grabbed his right knee.
Díaz was in tears and not putting weight on his leg as a coach and coach helped him hobble towards the dugout. He was then placed in a wheelchair in a foul territory, his right knee straightened. He saluted fans as he was rolled off the field
Díaz’s brother Alexis, who plays for the Cincinnati Reds, also cried as Edwin was driven away. Lindor, Edwin’s Mets teammate, stood nearby with his hands on his head.
The Mets said in a statement About an hour after the game, Díaz suffered a right knee injury and would undergo imaging on Thursday.
Puerto Rico coach Yadier Molina said Díaz also underwent tests at the stadium.
“I hugged our coaches in the dugout and when we looked up Edwin was on the ground,” said Molina. “I did not know it. I didn’t know how to act, I didn’t know how – what to say. I mean I didn’t know. It surprised me.
“Like I said, the dugout sucks, I’m sorry, but when you see a guy who works as hard as Edwin, I mean when you see him on the floor like that, it’s just sad.”
Hernandez said the dressing room was quiet after Díaz’s injury.
“It’s a certain point that’s bigger than the game,” Hernandez said. “It is very unfortunate that it happened. As excited as we were about the game and all that, this is one of our brothers.”
Díaz, 28, is a two-time All-Star and a two-time Reliever of the Year. He made 32 saves for the Mets last season with a 1.31 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 62 innings.
Auf Díaz is counted as one of the Mets’ key contributors to World Series ambitions after owner Steve Cohen’s recent spending spree pushed the club’s projected payroll to around $370 million. Díaz re-signed with the Mets in November for $102 million over five years – the largest assistant contract in baseball history.
ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.