Puerto Rico and Venezuela scored crucial victories in the second round of play in the World Baseball Classic in Miami, Florida. The losers, the Netherlands and the United States, now face each other for a final chance at staying in the tournament.
Saturday evening's game in Miami between Puerto Rico and the United States featured two of the most star-filled teams in the international tournament. Major League Baseball is organizing the games to showcase the league's talent and raise its profile around the world.
In the Puerto Rico / U.S. match, Puerto Rico's hitters took apart U.S. pitcher Jake Peavey from the start, scoring six runs in the first two innings on the way to an 11-1 victory.
Fans saw examples of major league hitting talent, as the teams combined for 19 hits and two home runs. Puerto Rico was overwhelming, however, as three of the first four batters got on base, leading to an early two-run lead.
Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo said his strategy was to take the offensive early.
"We were trying to send the message that we had to be aggressive with the team. And the guys ran the bases the way they are supposed to be run," said Oquendo. "So it was exciting for us, it was a great game for the guys."
The loss is a setback for the United States, which was eliminated in the second round in the Baseball Classic held in 2006. It was an added disappointment because officials ended the game early, after Puerto Rico increased its lead to 10 runs by the seventh inning.
Catcher Brian McCann said the so-called "mercy rule" decision made the loss harder.
"It is tough, but it is part of the game and these rules. You have to tip your hat to these [Puerto Rico] guys, they came out, swung the bats, pitOquendo ched great and played great defense," said McCann.
With the win, Puerto Rico remains undefeated in the tournament.
Earlier, Venezuelan batters were held to three hits, but made them count in a 3-1 victory over the Netherlands. Miguel Cabrera and Jose Lopez hit solo home runs, and Melvin Mora batted in an early run on a ground out.
Venezuelan starting pitcher Carlos Silva frustrated Dutch hitters for seven innings. He threw four strikeouts while giving up four hits, allowing team Netherlands only one run.
The Netherlands stuck to its winning formula of solid pitching and error-free defense, which helped it knock out powerhouse Dominican Republic in the first round. Still it was no match for Venezuela's roster of superstar hitters.
Venezuela also got a boost from the huge turnout of Venezuelan fans in Miami, which is home to many Latin American immigrants.
Venezeula plays Puerto Rico on Monday for a chance to advance to the semifinals in Los Angeles. The Netherlands and the United States face each other on Sunday for a final shot at remaining in the tournament.