Brandon Phillips grimaced as he chuckled about his travel plans.
He had hoped to accompany Team USA to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic in San Francisco. Instead, because the Americans were eliminated Friday night by Puerto Rico, he'll rejoin the Cincinnati Reds at spring training in Goodyear, Ariz.
"I didn't want to go back to Goodyear,'' Phillips said. "I wanted to go to San Francisco so bad. It stinks, man.''
Phillips can blame a U.S. batting slump - and 38-year-old right-hander Nelson Figueroa, who became the pride of Puerto Rico when he led his team into the semifinals and ousted the Americans, 4-3.
After Figueroa threw his last pitch to end the sixth inning, he leaped off the mound with a hoot like a kid at recess, then ran to catcher Yadier Molina to share a hug.
"We were supreme underdogs against that lineup,'' Figueroa said. "It was motivation to show them what kind of pitcher I was.''
On Thursday, demonstrative Dominicans dominated the All-Star-laden U.S. squad. The Americans endured a scoreless streak of 14 innings spanning the two defeats, and Figueroa limited them to two singles in six shutout innings.
The Americans have still not won the WBC - or even reached the final - in three tries.
"When you play double-elimination, it's a crapshoot,'' manager Joe Torre said.
But don't try to tell the Americans the event is only a glorified spring training exhibition.
"Not true,'' said Ryan Vogelsong (1-1), who allowed two runs in 5 2-3 innings. "These games are intense. They mean a lot. There's a lot of pride at stake. Being in the postseason and being here is very similar. It's quite honestly the same. For people to think this is just an exhibition, that's just false.''
The Puerto Rican team didn't treat it like an exhibition. J.C. Romero escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning and retired the final four batters for his first save.
Center fielder Angel Pagan caught the final out, triggering a pileup of Puerto Rican players behind the mound.
"When I caught that ball, I was thinking about my country all the way,'' Pagan said. "We overcome what everyone expected. I think nobody expected us to be this far, but it's about what we believe, and we believe we can go all the way.''
Puerto Rico advanced for the first time to the semifinals, which begin Sunday in San Francisco. They'll play the Dominican Republic on Saturday in the final game in Miami, which will determine seedings for the championship round.
Two-time defending champion Japan and the Netherlands round out the final four.
Figueroa (2-0) has a modest 20-35 record for six teams in nine major-league seasons, with his most recent big league game in May 2011. After pitching in Triple-A last year, he dominated the Americans.
"I don't throw very hard, but I pitch inside,'' he said. "It was a great exhibition of what can be done without a plus fastball. It was an opportunity to demonstrate that good pitching beats good hitting.''
Figueroa allowed only a single by Phillips in the fourth and a single by Jimmy Rollins in the sixth.
"He kept us off balance. He was hitting his spots,'' Phillips said.
The Americans batted .209 in their final two games.
Puerto Rico lost to the United States 7-1 on Tuesday, then staved off elimination Wednesday, rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the eighth inning to beat Italy.
The hits kept coming Friday, and Puerto Rico scored all four runs with two outs. Mike Aviles had an RBI single in the first, and Andy Gonzalez doubled home two runs in the sixth.
When Figueroa hit the tournament's 80-pitch limit, Giovanni Soto came on and gave up an RBI single to Giancarlo Stanton in the seventh.
The Americans continued their rally in the eighth. Rollins and Phillips singled off Jose De La Torre, and Ryan Braun followed with an RBI double. Joe Mauer walked to load the bases, and with two outs, Fernando Cabrera walked Ben Zobrist to force in a run and make it 4-3.
Eric Hosmer then grounded out again to Romero, who followed with a perfect ninth.
The crowd of 19,762 was smaller and more subdued than on Thursday, when the Dominican Republic transformed the ballpark into a Caribbean carnival by beating the United States. But Puerto Rican fans honked air horns and waved flags with each hit by their team and each out by the Americans.
Brandon Phillips grimaced as he chuckled about his travel plans.
Hrdlicka, Teter pour ‘heart’ into Zebra soccer program
For the past four years, Claremore High School seniors Katelin Teter and Nick Hrdlicka have represented the ‘heart and soul’ of the Lady Zebra and Zebra soccer programs.
The soccer duo will join seven other seniors on Friday night for Homecoming against Collinsville at Lantow Field.
9 straight for Lady Zebras
Claremore sophomore forward Bailey Steckline got the ‘hat-trick’ plus one Tuesday night in the Lady Zebras’ 10-0 win over Tulsa Memorial at LaFortune Stadium.
Steckline tallied two goals in the first half, and added two more in the second to complete her impressive night.
Tulsa Memorial holds off Zebras, 2-1
Tulsa Memorial scored a pair of first-half goals to steal the momentum away from the Claremore Zebras, as well as the 2-1 win Tuesday night in Metro Lakes Conference action at LaFortune Stadium.
BASEBALL: Whatley, Howe power Zebras past Tahlequah
Claremore’s Matt Whatley has proven over the past four years that he’s one of the toughest outs in the Metro Lakes Conference.
On Tuesday, Whatley went 3-for-4 with two singles and a triple while sparking the Zebras to a 12-2 win over Tahlequah in five innings at American Legion Park.
BASEBALL: Dewey takes pair from Sequoyah
It’s very difficult to win when you can’t score.
Class 4A third-ranked Dewey blanked homestanding Sequoyah 7-0 and 2-0 in a district doubleheader on Tuesday, improving to 21-3 with a dominating two-hit pitching performance in the opener and a four-hitter in the nightcap.
SOCCER: Sequoyah topples No. 15 Catoosa, 1-0
Sequoyah boys soccer coach Bob Campbell had one phrase to sum up his feelings following the Eagles’ game with 15th ranked Catoosa at home Tuesday night.
“We’re in the driver’s seat.’’
Alex Bourgeois scored late in the first half and Sequoyah made it stand up for a 1-0 victory over the Indians in a showdown for the district lead.
Jackson sprints Zebras to 1st place at OBU Relays
Claremore senior sprinter Tyler Jackson felt the need for speed Wednesday afternoon at the Oklahoma Baptist University High School Invitational.
Jackson notched a pair of first-place victories in the 200-meter dash and the 400-meter dash to help Claremore earn 130 points for top honors.
BASEBALL: Arkansas Tech roughs up ‘Cats
The Rogers State University baseball team had a disappointing finish in its home finale as No. 12-ranked Arkansas Tech blanked the Hillcats 11-0 Tuesday evening in non-conference action from the Diamond Sports Complex.
BASEBALL: Southwest Baptist slips past NSU, 5-3
The Northeastern State baseball team lost 5-3 to Southwest Baptist Thursday afternoon at Dobson Field.
The RiverHawks (19-22, 15-18 MIAA) held a 3-0 lead early in the contest, but a late rally from the Bearcats (23-18, 19-13 MIAA) and costly errors from the visitors allowed the home team to secure the series-opening triumph.
WOMEN'S TENNIS: Conference champion NSU lands top seed in MIAA tourney
The No. 31-ranked Northeastern State women's tennis team has drawn the top seed in the 2014 MIAA Women's Tennis Championship, the league announced Thursday morning.
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