MIAMI - If that doesn't fire up the United States for the World Baseball Classic, then perhaps nothing will.
Team USA is a WBC semifinalist, courtesy of a thrilling come-from-behind 6-5 victory over Team Puerto Rico at Dolphin Stadium last night. The Mets' David Wright delivered the winning hit, a one-out, ninth-inning, walk-off single, capping a three-run, ninth-inning rally.
The United States appeared destined to go down in the second round once again, just as it did in 2006. But this time, Davey Johnson's group fought and fought until the ninth-inning payoff, in front of a crowd of 13,224. When Puerto Rico padded its lead in the top of the ninth inning to 5-3, Team USA appeared cooked. But Shane Victorino and Brian Roberts started the bottom of the ninth with back-to-back singles off the Phillies' J.C. Romero, and Victorino tagged and moved to third on Derek Jeter's lineout to rightfield.
After Roberts stole second, Jimmy Rollins walked, loading the bases, and Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo lifted Romero for righthander Fernando Cabrera.
That didn't work. Cabrera walked Kevin Youkilis, forcing home Victorino to cut Puerto Rico's lead to 5-4. And Wright tapped a 2-and-1 Cabrera offering into the perfect spot in rightfield, just a few feet from the foul line, in front of Puerto Rico rightfielder Alex Rios. Roberts and Rollins scored easily for the U.S. victory, and the host country mobbed home plate in celebration.
After Rios' solo homer gave the Puerto Ricans a 1-0 lead in the second, Wright kicked off the bottom of the second with a hard grounder that hit the mound and skipped into centerfield for a single, and Wright stole second one out later and subsequently advanced to third on Mark DeRosa's single to rightfield.
Brian McCann hit a fly ball to shallow leftfield that Hiram Bocachica caught and then fired an on-line throw home to catcher Geovany Soto. Wright executed an excellent hook slide inside home plate that eluded Soto's tag. The game was tied, and DeRosa moved to second on the play at the plate.
When Victorino followed with a single to centerfield, DeRosa came around to score, giving the United States a 2-1 lead. Youkilis' monster homer to left, in the third inning, padded Team USA's lead to 3-1. Team USA scored two runs in the second and another in the third.
Carlos Delgado's two-run, fourth-inning homer off U.S. starter Ted Lilly knotted the game at 3-3. Puerto Rico took a 4-3 in the top of the sixth as Padres reliever Heath Bell, the former Met, issued a leadoff walk to Ivan Rodriguez. Carlos Beltran, Puerto Rico's third hitter, bunted Rodriguez over to second base, and Bell intentionally walked Delgado, bringing up Rios.
The Blue Jays' rightfielder pounded a single up the middle, scoring Rodriguez from second base, giving Puerto Rico the edge.
The Puerto Ricans protected that lead, quieting rally after rally. In the bottom of the seventh, Team USA put runners on first and third with two outs against Mets lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano. Oquendo lifted Feliciano for right-hander Saul Rivera to go after righty Youkilis, the cleanup hitter. The move worked, as Youkilis grounded out to shortstop Mike Aviles.
In the eighth, with the tying run on second, Oquendo turned to the lefty Romero, who struck out McCann.