The opener of the championship round of the Classic was Angel Pagan's San Francisco homecoming, but it was Mario Santiago's 4 1/3 scoreless innings that stole the show. Alex Rios was a boon on offense for Puerto Rico, blasting a two-run homer to left field as his team stunned Japan, 3-1.
"We're pretty confident right now," Rios said. "When we play for our country, a lot of good things happen. We've come a long way now and there's no way we're going to stop."
It was an unlikely result for Puerto Rico, especially against a talented and experienced two-time Classic championship team. Tonight, in the other semifinal game, the Dominican Republic will look to avenge its surprising 2009 elimination by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch beat the Dominican twice in the opening round four years ago, but Andruw Jones played down the upsets by saying his team will only be focused on limiting mistakes.
"It's going to be a tough match," Jones said. "They're coming in from Miami really hot. Everybody is swinging the bat good. They haven't lost one game yet. It's going to be a tough game. I think that it will go to who makes the least mistakes. We got guys on our team that can do damage, and I know that they got plenty of guys over there that can do damage. So I think if we eliminate our mistakes, it's going to be a good ballgame."
If the Netherlands plays anything like Puerto Rico did Sunday night, we'll have two Cinderellas matching up for the title Tuesday night at 8 ET at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
With MLB.com's top-ranked prospect Jurickson Profar making his Classic debut and Andrelton Simmons smoking at the plate, another upset could be in the cards. Profar is expected to bat second and should bring even more speed to an athletic Netherlands lineup that already features Jones, Simmons and Curt Smith, who leads the Dutch hitters with a .375 average.
Dominican Republic skipper Tony Pena said the addition of Profar and Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen could add a wrinkle in his club's preparations.
"We don't know a lot about them. They have a lot of guys, they have a great talent on that team," Pena said. "It's a very talented group. They have a great team. I touched base with some of the scouts, but that's the only thing that we have. We're going to go out and play, and if I can find out something, some information from anything else, I will."
By Wednesday, we'll have a new World Baseball Classic champion, and then the focus will shift back to the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League, as players and teams try to round into regular-season shape before Opening Day.
Some, as the Royals can attest, are further ahead than others.
The Boys in Blue will roll into their matchup against the Rangers on Monday following a 10-0 rout over the White Sox on Sunday. With first baseman Eric Hosmer back from the Classic, Kansas City cruised on offense with 18 hits. The Royals will look to keep up their torrid play against the Rangers, Dodgers, Angels, Rockies and D-backs this week as they try to add to their Cactus League-leading 17-4 record.
Red Sox starter Jon Lester will also try to stay hot over the week following his perfect six perfect innings against the Rays on Sunday. He retired all 18 batters he faced, striking out six, but manager John Farrell wasn't about to take any risks with his likely Opening Day starter.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, will be even more careful with starter Zack Greinke following his first pitches off a mound since being shut down with right elbow soreness, and Mets star David Wright will be closely watched after aggravating a rib-cage injury in the Classic. Wright says he won't rule out playing on Opening Day.
"I'll tell you that's my goal, but I can't predict one way or the other," Wright said.
Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is also day to day, after being scratched from Sunday's lineup with back spasms. He could possibly get the start Monday after missing out on the Reds' 7-7 tie against the Indians on Sunday.
Several teams will look to get key guys back on the field. Pirates starter Jeff Karstens could make his season debut as soon as Monday after pitching in a Minor League game against Phillies Triple-A players. Manager Clint Hurdle said Karstens, who had been working his way back from biceps tendinitis, will pitch two innings Monday in either a Minor League outing or against the Red Sox at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
The Yankees' saga at first base apparently will continue, as the search to replace injured All-Star Mark Teixeira goes on. The week could have big implications for the Yankees, as their chosen replacement could have a larger impact on the team's start than originally expected.
Teixeira, a five-time Gold Glove Award winner, was originally expected to miss eight to 10 weeks to recover from a partially torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, which he suffered on March 3, but he acknowledged he may need the entire month of May and he might need surgery, which would mean missing the entire season. The Yankees say they are 70-percent confident Teixeira can avoid surgery. In the meantime, veterans Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson will vie for the spot as the Bombers consider their internal options, including moving Kevin Youkilis over from third base.
"This is one of those things I can't come back too early," Teixeira said. "Unfortunately, if I try to play too early, we could miss the whole season, and we don't want that. I don't know if it's going to be middle of May, beginning of May, beginning of June. I don't know when it is, but I know that there's a whole bunch of season left -- and the time that really matters is the playoffs."