- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MIAMI | Hobbled and humbled in the World Baseball Classic, Team USA is still swinging.

David Wright sliced a two-run single that capped a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, and the injury-plagued Americans qualified for this weekend’s semifinals with a 6-5 win over Puerto Rico.

Wright’s hit with one out eliminated Puerto Rico from the tournament. The Americans advanced to the next round at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

It was an especially sweet victory for the United States after Saturday’s embarrassment against Puerto Rico that triggered the mercy rule when the Americans fell 10 runs behind, ending the game in the seventh inning.

This time they played a full nine, saving their best for last in the 3-hour, 54-minute marathon.

Trailing 5-3, Team USA began its rally when Shane Victorino and Brian Roberts singled to the start the ninth against J.C. Romero (1-1). Derek Jeter flied out, Roberts stole second and Jimmy Rollins walked on a 3-2 pitch.

Fernando Cabrera came on to pitch, and he walked Kevin Youkilis to force in a run.

Wright then lined a 2-1 pitch just inside the right-field line, raising his fist when the ball dropped in. The New York Mets star was mobbed by teammates near second base after two runs scored.

The clutch hit came after the Americans stranded seven runners in scoring position in the first eight innings.

The WBC has some marketing to do, as Tuesday’s modest crowd of 13,224 showed, and the tournament’s version of the Yankees provided a boost by making the final four for the first time. Team USA will play Venezuela in Miami’s final game of round two Wednesday night to determine seedings for the semis.

The Americans will advance despite a recent wave of injuries that has sidelined infielders Dustin Pedroia and Chipper Jones and reliever Matt Lindstrom for the rest of the tournament. Left fielder Ryan Braun was also unavailable Tuesday with a sore right side, but he hopes to return this weekend.

Alex Rios homered and then singled home the go-ahead run in the sixth for the Puerto Ricans. They totaled only five hits, but three walks led to runs, and U.S. starter Ted Lilly gave up three runs on two homers.

Carlos Delgado hit a two-run homer for the Puerto Ricans, and they broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth. Ivan Rodriguez led off with his third walk, took second on a surprise sacrifice by Carlos Beltran and scored on Rios’ single.

Ramon Vazquez singled home the Puerto Ricans’ final run in the ninth. Youkilis homered for Team USA.

Lilly gave up only two hits, but both were homers, and he departed after 3 1/3 innings with the score 3-3. Jonathan Broxton (1-0) earned the win despite allowing a run in the ninth, his lone inning.

Puerto Rican starter Jonathan Sanchez lasted only 2 2/3 innings. He allowed five hits and three runs.

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