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Friday, March 15, 2013
Puerto Rico delivers great WBC story

By David Schoenfield

The symbolic moment of the United States-Puerto Rico game -- a thrilling 4-3 win for Puerto Rico to eliminate the tournament favorites -- came in the bottom of the sixth inning. The U.S., trailing 4-0 and struggling to generate any offense, was desperate enough to try to run on Yadier Molina. Not a good idea. Not down four runs. Not with Molina behind the plate. He gunned down Jimmy Rollins to end the inning and turned around to the throng of Puerto Rican fans behind home plate and raised his fist in a picture of triumph.

Not on me. Not on me.

In one play, the U.S. had turned into the scrappy underdogs, fighting for a single run. The Puerto Ricans had become the confident favorites, not afraid to show a little bravado on the field.

All this because of Nelson Figueroa, the 38-year-old journeyman from Brooklyn, N.Y., who didn't even pitch in the majors in 2012. He doesn't break 90 mph with his fastball but held a lineup full of All-Stars to no runs and just two hits over six innings. He's a terrific story, one of many we've seen in this World Baseball Classic. He has never pitched in the postseason. He may never make it back to the majors. He grew up rooting for the Mets and got to play for the Mets. This was the biggest game he has ever pitched in and he shut down Ryan Braun and Joe Mauer and Giancarlo Stanton. Figueroa has started 65 games in the big leagues and allowed zero runs only three times. This one won't go into the official record book as a fourth scoreless effort, but it's undoubtedly the one he'll remember the rest of his life.

So Puerto Rico advances to the semifinals in San Francisco; it plays the Dominican Republic on Saturday for seeding into the final four. The winner will play the Netherlands, the loser gets Japan.

The drama didn't end there. A few key moments: