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USA and Puerto Rico collide in WBC championship

   03-22-2017
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Marcus Stroman has long forgotten his rocky first inning against Team Puerto Rico last Friday night when he allowed six straight hits and four earned runs.

Stroman, who was set to again face unbeaten Puerto Rico as the starter for Team USA in its World Baseball Classic championship game on Wednesday night, settled down to retire the next 14 batters and keep Team USA in the game for 4 2/3 innings in that second-round game in San Diego.

“The next inning, it was out of my mind,” the ultra-competitive 5-foot-8 right-hander told Fox Sports. “I was able to keep everything in perspective, keep things moving forward. I haven’t thought about that since.”

Since that 6-5 loss, Team USA has defeated the Dominican Republic and Japan to set up the rematch that will determine the 2017 World Baseball Classic champion.

Puerto Rico, which lost to the Dominican Republic, 3-0, in the 2013 WBC championship game, believes it’s in even better position to win this time around because its team is deeper. Team Puerto Rico was 7-0 after sweeping pool play in Jalisco, Mexico and San Diego and pulling out a 4-3, 11-inning victory over the Netherlands in their semifinal game on Monday night.

"We have a bank of talent that is wider than in 2013," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "There are more options. Not only the ones in the lineup, but also we have more options in our reserve players, and that is a huge difference."

Seth Lugo will start for Puerto Rico, backed by a lineup led by veteran superstars Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran and one of the best young infields ever assembled – Javier Baez at second, Carlos Correa at third and Francisco Lindor at shortstop.

"They're a team that's going to come out and be loud and crazy, dancing and jumping,” Andrew McCutchen said. “We're looking forward to that, looking forward to coming out and doing our job and hopefully getting a victory."

Win or lose, Correa was happy the fun-loving Puerto Rican team with its bleached hair and excitingplay had captured the imagination of fans in the island territory which has been beset by economic troubles and hardship over the past year or so.

“It means a lot, because Puerto Ricans have gone through a very difficult situation currently and we were able to unite our country,” Correa said. “That's what we want as players -- to unite our country, our people, and give them the best.”