MIAMI — They had rallied all the way back and eliminated an early four-run deficit, but if Mexico were to advance to their first semifinals of the World Baseball Classic and eliminate a star-studded Puerto Rico team, another big play had to be made .
Randy Arozarenadelivered of course.
Arozarena clung to a one-run lead in the eighth inning of Friday night’s quarterfinals game, sped near the left midfield fence and made an unlikely leap to catch him, erasing a game-determining extra base hit and helping Mexico take his Adopted home to cling to a 5-4 win in front of a sold-out crowd at LoanDepot Park.
Arozarena became a household name and dominated throughout the 2020 postseason. If his Tampa Bay Rays reached the World Series, he hit three home runs. Arozarena was reminded of that late Friday night and asked to identify his best moment at a baseball field.
“2023, World Baseball Classic, eighth inning, that catch,” he said in Spanish, drawing laughter from a crowded interview room.
Arozarena, 28, was born and raised in Cuba. In 2015 he left the island and came to Mexico, where he played winter ball, had a daughter and fell in love with his new homeland. He became a Mexican citizen last April just because he wanted to represent the nation at this World Baseball Classic — and he’s taken full advantage.
Arozarena was Pool C’s MVP, going 7-for-14 while driving in nine carries and scoring six more as Mexico won three of their four games. Then he made the biggest play in arguably the biggest game in Mexican baseball history, sending Mexico into a semifinal game against powerhouse Japan on Monday.
“I feel incredible,” said Arozarena. “I’ve had some incredible moments for my career.”
Puerto Rico, plays in the episode Edwin Diaz‘s sobering knee injury gave the Mexican ace a 4-0 lead in the first inning Julio Uriasalways running back to back home from Javier Baez And Eddie Rosario. But Puerto Rico didn’t muster much offense the rest of the way, and Mexico eventually bridged the gap while down on their last seven outs.
Alexis Diaz stepped in to his brother’s famous walk-out song “Narco” but continued to load the bases with no out and gave up a double to Austin Barnes and successive walks to Arozarena and Alex Verdugo. Jorg Lopez came out of the bullpen to record two quick outs. But Isaac Paredes lined a double-barreled single to left field and Luis Urias threw a base hit to the flat right hand and gave Mexico their first lead of the game.
Edwin Diaz, who tore the patellar tendon in his right knee during Puerto Rico’s on-pitch celebrations after their win against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night, reached out to Alexis after the game to tell him he went through similar situations in 2019 had. He told him to block out all outside noise and keep believing in himself.
“It was really painful for me,” said Alexis Diaz, who appeared to be on the verge of tears at not having his brother with him. “I wanted the two of us to be together at the Classic. Not having him here was really hard for me. But I’m a warrior and I got out there. I couldn’t achieve what I wanted, but I’m going to go further this season.”
Puerto Rico had a chance to avenge Diaz and tie the game in the following inning, with a runner on first and Emmanuel Rivera Uncorking a deep drive to left midfield. But Arozarena, who has wowed fans with his game and dazzled his teammates with his cowboy boots throughout this tournament, wouldn’t want it. After securing the catcher and throwing the baseball back towards the infield, Arozarena sat on the warning lane and stretched his arms wide, palms free and mouth open, another signature pose of the Cuban-born outfielder settling in Mexico fell in love .
Mexico coach Benji Gil said: “He’s a boy who is incredibly focused on doing everything in his power to help this family of Mexican warriors get a chance to play a World Cup.”