LOS ANGELES (AP) — Carlos Correa was 17 and watching the World Baseball Classic on television four years ago, too young to participate.
When his chance came around this time, the Houston Astros’ star shortstop was up to the task.
Correa hit a two-run homer in the first inning and scored the winning run in the 11th to give Puerto Rico a dramatic 4-3 victory over the Netherlands on Monday night.
Next up is a spot in the championship game.
“When I feel that I’m all excited, I try to calm down, breathe deep and concentrate on what we’re doing,” Correa said. “This is something that we rehearse every day, so we will be able to do it well at the end.”
Eddie Rosario, who went 0 for 4, hit a sacrifice fly to center field in the 11th that drove in Correa, triggering a massive celebration on the field and in the stands from red, white and blue-clad fans pounding cow bells and tooting horns and whistles.
T.J. Rivera’s solo shot in the second put Puerto Rico ahead 3-2.
Puerto Rico will play either two-time champion Japan or the United States for the title on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. The Puerto Ricans also reached the final in 2013, losing to the Dominican Republic 3-0.
Puerto Rico has outscored its opponents 55-18 while going 7-0 in this year’s tournament.
“It means a lot because Puerto Ricans have gone through a very difficult situation currently and we were able to unite our country,” Correa said.
The blond Puerto Rican players, who dyed their hair in a show of unity that has caught on back home, jumped up and down after a lively, emotional and sometimes-testy semifinal that included four replay reviews during the fourth and fifth innings of a game that lasted 4 hours, 19 minutes.
When it was finally over, Kike Hernandez, who plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Hiram Burgos raced around the field carrying Puerto Rican flags above their heads.
Curt Smith grounded into a bases-loaded, inning-ending double play for the Netherlands in the 11th, which began with runners on first and second for both teams under tournament rules. It was one of three double plays turned by Puerto Rico.
Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina’s defense saved Puerto Rico from a potential grand slam in the first inning when Wladimir Balentien’s homer helped the Netherlands to a 2-0 lead, giving orange-clad fans a reason to cheer.
“For me, that was the game,” Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “Yadier Molina came to play.”
Molina capitalized on two baserunning blunders by the Dutch.
Jorge Lopez allowed a leadoff single to Andrelton Simmons and hit Xander Bogaerts with a pitch. Simmons later wandered off the bag toward third and Molina threw to second, but Simmons couldn’t get back in time and got caught in a rundown.
Jurickson Profar singled to right, but was slow getting back to first while celebrating and was picked off by Molina, who took Rosario’s relay from the outfield. Balentien followed with his mammoth, two-out shot, and celebrated with a bat flip.
“Frustrating for me is the mental errors that we committed,” Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. “We talked to the guys before the game about the experience of Yadier Molina behind the plate. If you get too far off, he’ll pick you off, and that’s what happened. Then Jurickson getting the base hit, celebrating and not getting back to the base, that’s unacceptable. That could have been the difference in us winning or not.”
Balentien, who had three hits, has been the top slugger in the WBC, batting .615 (16 for 26) with 12 RBIs. His four homers were one shy of the tournament record. He last played in the major leagues in 2009 and has been playing for Yakult in Japan since 2011.
Edwin Diaz threw high and inside to Balentien in the 10th, causing Balentien to point at his head and shake his finger in a warning to Diaz. Players from both teams came out of the dugout, but the situation didn’t escalate.
Correa came over to calm down Diaz.
“We were full of emotions,” Correa said.
Molina stepped in front of Balentien, as if to dissuade him from approaching the mound, while plate umpire Lance Barksdale attempted to keep the peace. Balentien took a called third strike, one of three punchouts by Diaz in the inning.
“It’s just emotions pouring into that at-bat,” Meulens said. “Coco had two great swings and two fastballs. The next pitches are in the head area inside. Up in the zone like that is kind of dangerous if it hits you.”
Diaz got the victory, and 7-foot-1 Loek Van Mil took the loss.
The Netherlands tied it 3-all in the fifth on Shawn Zarraga’s RBI double to deep left-center. That scored Balentien after he doubled high off the videoboard on the left-field wall with two outs. Jonathan Schoop, who had been intentionally walked, was thrown out at the plate on a strong relay by second baseman Javier Baez, a close play that was reviewed.
Baez turned a double play to end the eighth, fielding Smith’s grounder and tagging Yurendell Decaster as he ran to second before getting Smith at first. Puerto Rican fans burst into chants and waved flags.
Bogaerts grounded into a double play on a chopper up the middle to end the ninth.
Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers closer, retired the side on nine pitches in the bottom of the ninth, striking out two for the Netherlands.
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