MIAMI -- Once again, the United States could only watch as an opposing pitcher celebrated at the World Baseball Classic.
This time it was 38-year-old right-hander Nelson Figueroa, who became the pride of Puerto Rico on Friday night when he led his team into the semifinals and eliminated 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. "And Figueroa pitched his tail off tonight."
J.C. Romero escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and retired the final four batters for his first save. Center fielder Angel Pagan of the Giants caught the final out, triggering a pileup of Puerto Ricans behind the mound.
"When I caught that ball, I was thinking about my country all the way," Pagan said.