Randy Arozarena of Team Mexico makes a catch at the wall in the eighth inning during the 2023 World Baseball Classic Quarterfinal game between Team Puerto Rico and Team Mexico at loanDepot Park on Friday, March 17, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
MIAMI- How good was Randy Arozarena’s catch in left field against Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rivera’s fly ball to the wall in the top of the eighth?
Mexico manager Benji Gil has some thoughts.
“It was extremely important. I don’t remember who the runner was, but he had passed second base. He was almost approaching the third base. What a catch. What a catch. It was almost a double play,” Gil said following the 5-4 win in the World Baseball Classic quarterfinal.
The Puerto Rico baserunner, MJ Melendez, had rounded second and was heading for third, thinking, as everyone else in the ballpark save for Arozarena did, the baseball was going to hit the wall or go over it. When Arozarena, who made the catch on the run, tracking the ball back and to his left as he ran up against the wall, Melendez got lucky and scooted back to first base with Mexico’s defense out of position to double him off first.
“It could have been a double play,” Gil said. “They were all out of place, you know? The first baseman was out of place. They were out of place, you know? They were out of place because of the great catch.”
Arozarena, who was the Pool C MVP for Mexico, continues to add to his stellar play in the WBC. In addition to the catch, he had two walks, a run scored, and a single against Puerto Rico.
Asked if the catch, which saved the tying run, was the greatest defensive play in Mexican baseball history, Gil didn’t mince words.
“I would say yes. Absolutely yes,” Gil said following the game. “I was told recently that in a world championship, no Mexican team has reached the semifinals in any kind of sports at the highest level. So I say, yes, it should be.”
The Cuba native, who left the island for Mexico in hopes of eventually playing professional baseball in the United States and plays for Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, has made himself a legend in his adopted home country this week.
Said Gil of his left fielder, “That guy is devoted, dedicated, to do everything he can in his abilities to help this family of Mexican warriors to fight for the championship.”
Less than 48 hours after his brother snapped his patellar tendon celebrating Puerto Rico’s 5-2 win against the Dominican Republic in the final game of pool play at LoanDepot Park, Alexis Diaz took the mound for Puerto Rico.
He came in from the bullpen with Puerto Rico leading 4-2 in the top of the seventh, and with the fans in red, white and blue on their feet cheering, the familiar strains of Timmy Trumpet’s “Narco,” his brother Edwin’s signature entrance music, erupted from the stadium speakers.
It was quite a moment.
But Diaz’ second pitch resulted in a double to left field by Austin Barnes. Then, Diaz couldn’t find the plate with his slider, missing twice, and Randy Arozarena drew his second walk of the game. When Diaz couldn’t find the plate with his fastball, the next batter, Alex Verdugo walked on four pitches to load the bases, and suddenly, Puerto Rico was in trouble and headed to the shower,s and Jorge Diaz came on.
After getting Joey Meneses to pop out and Rowdy Tellez to fan, Isaac Paredes ripped a two-run single to left, and Luis Urias followed with an RBI single, and Mexico had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Diaz didn’t speak to the media following the game, and Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina wasn’t asked about Diaz.
It’s easy to second-guess a manager’s decision from a seat so high you can touch the roof of LoanDepot Park, and, of course, had Diaz held up, no one would question bringing him in at all.
But in an emotionally-charged atmosphere, playing for national pride and an injured brother, it was all foreseeable.