Puerto Rico ousts Dominican Republic at WBC, but loses Edwin Diaz to knee injury

Jeff PassanESPNRead for 4 minutes

MIAMI – Puerto Rico ousted the favored Dominican Republic from the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday-evening with a 5-2 victory in front of a noisy crowd of 36,025 at the sold-out LoanDepot Park. But the festive mood turned out to be short-lived.

While Puerto Rico advanced to the quarterfinals, they’re likely going to go into the tournament without Edwin Díaz, the All-Star closer for the New York Mets, who injured his right knee after converting the save, leaving players in noticeable shock in the aftermath of what should have been a thrilling victory.

In a battle between two Latin American powerhouses, the team triumphed with the signature dyed blonde hair, escaping the group of death Pool D and set up a quarterfinal against Mexico, the winner of Pool C, on Saturday night. After Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic lost previously from Pool D winner Venezuela, a match that already had huge emotional implications took on even more significance as a win-or-go-home affair.

With vuvuzelas honking and flags waving and a man stuffing a plantain in the waistband of his jeans, a tribute to the banana power that led the DR to the 2013 Championship in a game between the teams, Puerto Rico exacted revenge. Gone, on a four-run burst in the third inning from Puerto Rico, was a team from the Dominican Republic whose lineup included Juan Soto, Julio Rodríguez, Manny Machado and Rafael Devers, along with a bullpen of devastating weapons who made it the favorite to win the fifth edition of the tournament.

Puerto Rico’s thrilling victory Wednesday night in the World Baseball Classic was overshadowed by an injury to All-Star closer Edwin Diaz.Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t matter for Puerto Rico. Led by manager Yadier Molina, the 10-time All-Star who caught in the last WBC in 2017 for the team that lost to the USA in the final, Puerto Rico racked up five straight hits to start third and never looked back .

Christian Vazquez led off with a homerun off DR starter Johnny Cueto. Vimael Machin singled to left, Martin Maldonado dropped a bunt-single, Francisco Lindor drove in Machin with a single to left and Enrique Hernández placed Maldonado with a Baltimore chop single over Machado’s head. An RBI groundout by MJ Melendez gave Puerto Rico a 4-0 lead.

Soto cut into it with a giant shot to start Jovani Moran’s 2nd half, launching a 92 mph fastball 448 feel to the center. Puerto Rico answered when Lindor singled up the middle in the fifth and Rodríguez misplayed the ball, who dribbled to the wall and enabled Lindor to get on base and extend the lead to 5-1.

The bottom of the fifth offered what ended up being the DR’s last chance. Against Alexis Díaz, they loaded the bases with a pair of walks and a single. With no outs and the bases loaded, Machado stepped in. A swing later, he grounded into a double play. Although a run was scored, Díaz escaped without damage for the rest of the inning, and Puerto Rico’s bullpen held until the ninth inning.

As the door of the bullpen swung open, Alexis’ brother, Edwin, the best closer in baseball, came out accompanied by “Narco,” the entrance music that usually accompanies him at Citi Field. Díaz then struckout Ketel Marte, Jean Segura and Teoscar Hernández.

Diaz was quickly swamped by teammates after the final clean sheet; the group was jumping together in the infield when Díaz fell to the ground at the mound, and he immediately reached for his right knee.

Díaz was in tears and not putting any weight on his feet when a coach and trainer helped him stumble to the dugout. He was then placed in a wheelchair on foul ground, his right knee straight. He saluted the fans as he was wheeled off the field

Díaz’s brother, Alexis, who plays for the Cincinnati Reds, also cried when Edwin was driven away. Lindor, Edwin’s teammate on the Mets, stood nearby with his hands on his head.

The Mets said in a statement about an hour into the game that Díaz had a right knee injury and was scheduled to undergo imaging on Thursday.

Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina said Díaz was also being tested at the stadium.

“I hugged our coaches in the dugout. When we looked up, Edwin was on the floor,” said Molina. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to behave, I didn’t know how to – what to say. I mean, I didn’t know. It took me by surprise.

“Like I said in the dugout, it sucks, sorry, but when you see a man working as hard as Edwin, I mean when you see him lying on the floor like that, I mean it’s just sad it.”

Hernandez said it was quiet in the locker room after Díaz’s injury.

“It’s a sure thing that it’s bigger than the game,” Hernandez said. “It’s very unfortunate that it happened. As excited as we were about the game and everything, that’s one of our brothers.”

The 28-year old Díaz is a two-time All-Star and two-time reliever of the year. He converted 32 saves for the Mets last season with an 1.31 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 62 innings.

Díaz is counted on as a key contributor for the Mets, who have World Series aspirations after owner Steve Cohen’s latest spending spree pushed the club’s projected payroll to about $370 million. Díaz re-signed with the Mets in November for $102 million over five years – the largest contract for a reliever in baseball history.

ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment