Hernandezes drive Venezuela to semis
Felix fans seven, Ramon homers to lead country over P.R.
MIAMI -- Star power was everywhere on Monday night at Dolphin Stadium. Ultimately, a 22-year-old dubbed "King" made a huge difference.
"King" Felix Hernandez of Venezuela struck out seven in 4 2/3 innings, and he provided an inspirational lift that helped his team pull off a 2-0 victory over Puerto Rico in Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic.
Hernandez silenced a Puerto Rican lineup that had outscored its opponents, 26-2, in four games prior to Monday. Venezuela now is guaranteed a place in the semifinals, and it will play on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET for seeding purposes.
"That's the biggest game I've ever pitched," Hernandez said. "To pitch in these kind of games, that's what I like. I'm just proud to represent my country in this great tournament. Today was the most exciting day of my life."
Puerto Rico, 4-1 in the Classic, had been so dominant. But the setback means it will play on Tuesday against Team USA in an elimination game at 7 p.m. The loser goes home, while the winner will also be headed to the semifinals.
Venezuela improved to 5-1 in the Classic, and it will be headed to Los Angeles for the semifinals, a goal after the country fell short of that expectation in 2006.
"There will always be some pressure," Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo said. "I think the mere fact that we won and we're going to L.A. was perhaps the most difficult task, because in 2006, we were left out of this round, and today we pleased Venezuela. We're extremely happy."
There was a festive atmosphere at Dolphin Stadium, where an energized crowd of 25,599 was nearly split with fans rooting passionately for both teams.
Francisco Rodriguez of the Mets sealed the victory by working 1 1/3 innings, retiring all four batters he faced for the save. After the game, the Venezuelan players poured onto the field and celebrated for several minutes.
"This means a lot," Rodriguez said. "That's one of our goals, to reach the semifinals, and of course, make it to the finals. It's a big deal for us. Today, we came out and we gave everything we've got to get this win and get to L.A.
"Now, we have to start it over once again, to be able to bring it to the field and make it to the finals. That's our goal right now."
A key run came in the seventh on Ramon Hernandez's home run, which initially was ruled a triple.
Hernandez connected on a long drive to left-center off Giancarlo Alvarado. The ball cleared the high wall, and it bounced back into the field of play. The umpires weren't sure if it cleared the wall, and taking no chances, Hernandez raced to third. In what appeared to be the first Classic game featuring the use of instant replay, the umpires reversed the call and ruled it a homer.
However, in an interview following the game, crew chief Ed Rapuano said instant replay was not used to reverse the call.
"The replay was not reviewed," Rapuano said. "They couldn't get me the replay in the locker room on the replay board."
Rapuano said the final decision was made by consensus, because third-base umpire Hitoshi Watarida told Rapuano that he was "110 percent sure" Hernandez's homer sailed over the wall.
As Hernandez waited at third base, he wondered, "'Why me?'
"I was thinking, 'Why does it happen to me?'" he said.
Hernandez says he's hit the ball hard, but at people. And when he cleared the wall, the umpires weren't sure if it went out.
"I was like, 'OK, why is this going to happen to me again?'" he said. "I was just hoping it would be a homer."
Puerto Rico center fielder Carlos Beltran tried to decoy as if the ball was still in play.
"I knew it was a home run, but I tried to play it like it wasn't, and the umpires got together and it basically showed up that it was a home run," Beltran said.
Even though there was an 85-pitch limit on both starters, Felix Hernandez threw 86, because he was able to exceed the number as long as it was during a sequence with a batter.
Hernandez exited in the fifth inning with two on and two outs. Ramon Vazquez tripled with two outs, and Hernandez walked Beltran after a seven-pitch showdown.
Left-hander Carlos Vasquez replaced Hernandez and faced Carlos Delgado with runners at the corners. On a two-strike pitch, Delgado swung through a slider, ending the threat.
For the second successive game in Miami, Rodriguez was called upon to record a four-out save. K-Rod inherited a 2-1 count from Ramon Ramirez in the bottom of the eighth. Puerto Rico had runners on first and second. Facing Felipe Lopez, Rodriguez used three pitches to record a swinging strikeout. The Venezuelan team met him in front of the dugout to celebrate.
Hernandez of the Mariners had some electric stuff, striking out seven in 4 2/3 innings, but he walked four and allowed four hits.
Some nice two-strike, two-out hitting by Carlos Guillen gave Venezuela a one-run lead in the third inning. Bobby Abreu walked and stole second. Puerto Rico starter Ian Snell went ahead 1-2 in the count to Guillen, who slapped an 86-mph slider into center field to open the scoring.
One run was all that Venezuela would need on a night Felix Hernandez was masterful.
"He's pretty special," Snell said of his pitching counterpart. "Seattle's got a good pitcher. I just watched him, the way he pitched, and it was amazing. It looked like he was in trouble, and all of a sudden, he comes back and strikes two, three guys out and that's the inning. He's something else."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.