Jeff PassanESPN5 minutes read
MIAMI — Officially, Puerto Rico’s 10-0 win over Israel at Monday night’s World Baseball Classic will not go down in the record books as a perfect game, despite four pitchers collectively retiring all 24 batsmen they faced in the mercy rule win.
Just don’t say that to the Puerto Rico players.
“It’s perfect for us,” said starter Jose De Leon, whose brilliant 5.2-innings topped the two-time runner-up’s best performance of the classic and set up an epic matchup against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday in which the winner is expected to advance and the loser will probably say goodbye after the pool game.
The Elias Sports Bureau, which makes official scoring decisions for Major League Baseball, said WBC games are held to the same scoring standards as MLB games, where “official” perfect plays and no-hitters must last at least nine innings. Puerto Rico capped Monday’s win with a walkoff single from Enrique Hernández at the bottom of the eighth inning, sending its players out in celebration.
At the heart of the win was 30-year-old De Leon, a former top contender whose career was cut short by injuries. De Leon, who currently has a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins, his sixth team, has struggled through the lineup that included veteran outfielder Joc Pederson and other players of Jewish descent. On 64 pitches, one just under the pool game limit, De Leon threw 42 strikes and worked around four three-ball counts to tie a WBC record with 10 strikeouts.
De Leon said that after the third inning, with Puerto Rico leading 6-0, he began to realize something was afoot. With WBC rules allowing for mercy-rule wins on a 15 lead after the fifth inning or 10 after the seventh inning, De Leon’s teammates saw the possibility of such a win and began giving him typical treatment for a pitcher on the edge to give something special.
“They didn’t say a word,” De Leon said. “I knew then that something was going to happen.”
When Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina drew De Leon with two outs for substitute Yacksel Rios in the sixth inning because of pitch restrictions, catcher Martin Maldonado said he told Ríos to field like it was an 0: 0 game and he’ve received a curious look back. It wasn’t until after the game, Maldonado said, that Rios admitted he didn’t know it was a perfect game.
It was much easier for Puerto Rico to get involved in their offensive fireworks. On Sunday, Puerto Rico fell 9-1 to Venezuela, the early standout of Death’s group Pool D, eventually losing 9-6. Against Israel, who booked a win over Nicaragua on Sunday, went the top five players in Puerto Rico’s lineup – Francisco Lindor, Hernandez, MJ Melendez, Emmanuel Rivera and Javier Baez – with a combined 9 of 17 with eight RBIs and six runs scored.
As Puerto Rico neared mercy rule territory with three runs in the fifth inning, Molina began handling like he wanted the first shotless game since 18-year-old Shairon Martis’ 7-inning no-hitter against Panama in 2006, the first year of the WBC. (It’s also not an official no-hitter, according to MLB.) In reality, when Molina put Edwin Diaz in closer in the seventh inning, he made Diaz serve after failing to throw in either of Puerto Rico’s first two games. He moved up 10 places to the top of the leaderboard, and after Israel averted defeat with a scoreless seventh place, Duane Underwood Jr. also sealed the eighth inning at 10 and set up Hernández’s shot to perfection.
“It’s different than playing for the Mets,” Diaz said. “We represent our country. Every player is proud to represent the country. And we have to win every game because we lost yesterday. We can’t wait to play against DR until Wednesday. This game will be like game 7 of the be world.” Series. We definitely have to win.”
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico was able to celebrate its visit to perfection, at least for Monday night. Molina beamed at De Leon, who played for Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League and was brilliant in 11 starts, hitting 60 over 47.2 innings and not allowing a home run. “He worked so hard to be in this position,” said Molina. “So happy for him. I mean, pitch for your country, pitch in front of your family – to have that success is amazing.”
Not just success. Perfection.
“When I first played for Puerto Rican in 2017, it was the pinnacle of my career,” said De Leon. “And I’ve always said there’s only one way to beat that. And it did it again the next time. I’m here. I’m very grateful for the opportunity. But I never saw a moment like this coming. So I’ll enjoy it.”