World Baseball Classic: Puerto Rico beats Japan 3-1, advances to final
San Francisco • A beaming Alex Rios rounded the bases and reached home to a line of jubilant, jumping teammates eager to celebrate.
The surprising Puerto Ricans first eliminated the star-studded United States, then took care of two-time World Baseball Classic champion Japan two days later with a 3-1 victory in Sunday night's semifinal.
Now, Puerto Rico needs one more win to be WBC champion. Then, the country can really cheer.
Rios hit a two-run homer, Mike Aviles singled twice and drove in the game's first run, and Puerto Rico reached its first WBC final with a big assist from the bullpen.
Relievers Jose De La Torre and Xavier Cedeno each worked out of jams while pitching key moments after winning pitcher Mario Santiago left in the fifth inning with a forearm injury.
Team Puerto Rico will play in Tuesday night's championship against either the Netherlands or the Dominican Republic. Those teams meet in the tournament's second semifinal Monday night.
Aviles hit a bloop single to center to put Puerto Rico on the board in the first and singled again to start the seventh before Rios hit a towering drive into the left-field seats.
Unlike the two previous WBC winners from Japan, this team was devoid of major leaguers. Hirokazu Ibata drove in the team's lone run with an eighth-inning single against Randy Fontanez, but Japan missed a chance with a costly baserunning blunder.
World Baseball Classic
At San Francisco
Puerto Rico 3, Japan 1
Netherlands vs. Dominican Republic, 7 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.