USA faces must-win game after loss to Puerto Rico at WBC


USA faces must-win game after loss to Puerto Rico at WBC


SAN DIEGO  — Puerto Rico is squeezing every bit of fun it can out of this World Baseball Classic.

Come Monday night, the party moves on to Dodger Stadium.

Yadier Molina and Puerto Rico advanced to the WBC semifinals after scoring four runs in the first inning and then holding on for a wild 6-5 win against the United States on Friday night.

When Edwin Diaz struck out Josh Harrison to end the game with Brandon Crawford standing on third base, players raced out of the Puerto Rico dugout to join the celebration on the infield. After a few minutes in the clubhouse, the team returned to the field waving small flags and ran over to celebrate with a large group of fans on the first-base side who were chanting, beating drums, rattling noisemakers and waving flags.

"We are happy for the job all the guys have done," Carlos Beltran said. "I think the boys have done a good job playing for their country. We're happy for our country and for our people. They are very proud of us and we hope to God we finish the mission."

Puerto Rico advanced to the championship round for the second straight WBC. It reached the championship game in 2013 before losing to the Dominican Republic.

By clinching Pool F with a day to go, Puerto Rico (2-0) will play the Netherlands on Monday night at Dodger Stadium.

The other semifinal spot from Pool F will go to the winner of Saturday night's game between the United States (1-1) and the Dominican Republic (1-1). That team will play Japan on Tuesday night.

Puerto Rico took a 4-0 lead in the first, watched Buster Posey and Adam Jones hit impressive home runs, and then benefited from a two-run, two-base, two-out throwing error in the sixth by third baseman Nolan Arenado, who won the Gold Glove Award in each of his first four big league seasons.

With most of the 32,463 fans on their feet and chanting in the top of the ninth, a U.S. rally fell just short. Crawford hit a two-run triple to the left-center gap off Diaz with two outs to pull the Americans within a run and spark chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Diaz then struck out Josh Harrison for his second save to send the Puerto Ricans into a frenzy. Backup catcher Roberto Perez carried a Puerto Rican flag with him onto the field.

Puerto Rico can sweep the pool when it plays Venezuela (0-2) on Saturday afternoon. Puerto Rico beat the Dominican Republic 3-1 on Tuesday night.

"They are a very good team and they are doing a lot of things right," U.S. manager Jim Leyland said. "You tip your hat to them."

The United States will have to regroup to face a Dominican Republic team it lost to one week earlier in the opening round in Miami. In that game, Nelson Cruz hit a go-ahead, three-run home run in the eighth as the Dominicans rallied from five runs down to win 7-5.

Puerto Rico took a 4-0 lead on six straight singles and a sacrifice fly in first inning off Marcus Stroman.

Carlos Correa, Beltran and Molina had RBI singles in Puerto Rico's opening onslaught. Stroman finally got an out when Rosario hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0. Molina tried taking third on the play but overran the bag and was tagged out. Stroman got Rivera to fly out to right to end it.

"The first inning was just incredible," Beltran said. "It gave us so much confidence for the rest of the game."

The United States pulled to 4-3 on Eric Hosmer's RBI single in the second and then homers by Posey leading off the fifth and Jones with one out in the sixth, both off starter Seth Lugo. Posey's second homer of the tourney went an estimated 398 feet to left-center. Jones, who played at San Diego's Morse High, homered for the second time in two games.

Puerto Rico regained a cushion in the sixth on the error by Arenado, who short-hopped a throw to first after fielding a grounder by Angel Pagan that took a high bounce.

Leadoff batter Javier Baez was hit by a pitch from Mychal Givens and stole second. Andrew Miller came on and walked Eddie Rosario. With T.J. Rivera batting, Baez and Rosario pulled a double steal. Rivera and pinch-hitter Kike Hernandez struck out. Pagan's grounder took a wicked hop and Arenado fielded it above his shoulders. He got set, but his throw skipped past Hosmer, and Baez and Rosario scored.

"That is just part of the game," Leyland said. "That is the human element of it. That is a great third baseman. I have no problem whatsoever with that."

Lugo (1-0) allowed three runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out two and walked one.

Stroman (0-1) allowed four runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, struck out two and walked one.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”