Coming up against a vast underdog opponent in Spain, Puerto Rico found themselves in a surprisingly close contest throughout their Pool C opener at the World Baseball Classic.
In fact, were it not for Carlos Beltran‘s key contribution early in the game, the 3-0 PR victory would have been too close for comfort.
It didn’t necessarily feel like that in the first inning, though. Coming up against Houston Astros farmhand Sergio Perez, the Puerto Rican team got off to a fast start, getting a couple of runners on base for Beltran, who punched a double to right field to score the game’s first two runs.
Fellow St. Louis Cardinals teammate Yadier Molina then got on base via an error, and a couple of walks (included a bases-loaded pass that scored Beltran) later, the whole thing was starting to look like it was going to be the laugher that most had expected.
There was almost an eerie deja vu in the following frame, when Beltran stepped up once again with two men on base following Alex Rios‘ second HBP. Instead of letting the Cardinals outfielder hurt him, though, Perez intentionally walked Beltran, and got through the inning without giving up any damage.
It was essentially a pitcher’s duel after that, as both team exchanged zeroes for the rest of the game, with the Spanish pitching staff only giving up three more hits in the final six frames.
Considering that Beltran was involved in all three runs that counted for Puerto Rico, you could probably safely say that the outcome may have been a little different if it weren’t for his participation.
Though he’s happily representing his country on the world stage at the WBC, both this tournament — and the coming season — are key for Beltran’s career going forward. The switch-hitter is facing a contract year at age-35, and is looking to impress the Cardinals brass enough for them to consider signing him to a multi-year contract, delaying the arrival of top hitting prospect Oscar Taveras.
The team would probably rather have Beltran in Spring Training for that purpose, but as far as getting a look at their aging outfielder in his first taste of competitive baseball goes, I’d say the team would have to be impressed thus far.