Wagner, Mets fall to Puerto Rico

Wagner, Mets fall to Puerto Rico

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Amid enthusiasm he had never felt, Carlos Beltran did something he had never done. Thanks to him and a nine-man mound shuttle that hit its mark, Team Puerto Rico winged home on Sunday night for a World Baseball Classic date on a high.

In a Tradition Field full of fans and ironies, Puerto Rico warmed up for the Classic with a 6-1 exhibition victory over the New York Mets.

Beltran snapped a 1-all tie in the fifth inning with a two-out, two-run single against his regular team in front of a crowd of boisterous, celebratory crowd of 6,127 -- many of them displaying the Puerto Rico colors.

"I didn't know St. Lucie had so many Puerto Ricans," Beltran beamed afterwards. "It was fun, and great to see all that support from the fans. They bring a great excitement to the park."

Furthermore, Beltran's game-winner came against left-hander Billy Wagner, the new Mets closer who excused himself only a few days ago from Team USA.

"I'm a player of the Mets," Beltran said. "Facing Billy ... he's such a hard thrower. I was looking for a slider, but he kept giving me a lot of fastballs. Good thing I was able to get one over third base on a pitch I got jammed."

Alex Rios singled for one run in the second and in the sixth scored on Alex Cintron's single for all the offense Puerto Rico would need behind nine pitchers who silenced a split-squad Mets squad.

The only dour note was that one of those nine -- the Mets' Juan Padilla -- afterwards asked out of the Classic, claiming his arm doesn't feel 100 percent. Puerto Rico received permission to replace him on the roster with Ivan Maldonado, a right-hander in the Mets' system.

Following the lead of starter Dicky Gonzalez, who blanked New York on one hit for two innings, eight Puerto Rico relievers combined to hold the Mets to five hits.

Most impressively, they issued zero walks, a remarkable early-spring achievement that heeded the urging of manager Jose Oquendo.

"They know how to throw strikes," Oquendo said. "And I want them to throw strikes. That's what I've been emphasizing. And they did a great job getting ahead of the hitters."

With another New York contingent playing a Grapefruit League game in Vero Beach against the Dodgers, the lineup hosting Puerto Rico included four regulars: David Wright, Cliff Floyd, Xavier Nady and Kaz Matsui.

The Mets forged a brief 1-all tie on Wright's fourth-inning single off J.C. Romero, minutes before Wagner entered the game.

If this is as close as Wagner will get to the Classic, he saw all he wants of it. He was welcomed by a sharp leadoff single by Cintron, then overran Alex Cora's sacrifice bunt for an error that set up the go-ahead rally.

Puerto Rico kept pulling away in the ninth, when Cora ripped an RBI triple and scored on Ricky Ledee's sacrifice fly to make it 6-1.

Overall, the Puerto Ricans looked extremely alert and sharp for a team that had assembled only two days earlier.

Still in jeopardy after allowing Wright's tying single, Romero made a shrewd play to get out of further trouble.

Floyd hit a high chopper back to the mound -- a ball with too much elevation to normally turn a double play. But Romero noticed that Floyd had broken from the box in a trot, and tossed to Cintron at short to begin a double play.

In the eighth, with Julio Franco on second after a double off Orlando Roman, Eduardo Perez made a sliding shoestring catch of Brett Harper's sinking liner to left. Franco, who took off on contact, was doubled up to end the inning.

Perez returned to the dugout under a gauntlet of high-fives and backslaps from his pumped teammates -- and countrymen.

"They were pretty solid," Oquendo said. "The pitchers got their work in, and the guys did a good job behind them."

The fans did an equally good job way behind them. Small pockets of Puerto Rico fans eclipsed the Mets majority. A handful of fans beating drums -- a Latin American ballpark staple -- easily drowned out the music blaring through the sound system.

"That's the way it always is in Latin America," said Beltran, shaking his head for emphasis. "They have great fun with it, and they make it fun for us."

Team Puerto Rico will hold one workout on Monday in Hiram Bithorn Stadium before opening Pool C play on Tuesday night against Panama.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.