US captain Mike Trout drove in all three runs as the United States defeated Colombia 3-2 on Wednesday to book their place in the quarter-finals of the World Baseball Classic.
Los Angeles Angels outfielder Trout — one of the figureheads of a star-studded US line-up — knocked in singles in the third and fifth innings to send the US into the last eight.
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The Americans, who have recovered after being upset by Mexico in their second game in Pool C on Sunday, will now face Venezuela in Miami on Friday, with a semi-final showdown with Cuba awaiting the winner.
Colombia, needing a big win over the hosts to have any chance of progressing on Wednesday, raised the prospect of an upset after Reynaldo Rodriguez doubled to score Jorge Alfaro for a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third.
But Trout singled in the fifth inning to score Los Angeles Dodgers duo Will Smith and Mookie Betts and put the USA 3-2 ahead.
Closer Ryan Pressly then got the save in the ninth to wrap up the win.
US manager Mark DeRosa lavished praise on the Americans’ game-winner Trout.
“I see one of the best players of all time,” DeRosa said of Trout. “The way he’s able to swing the baseball bat… it was a huge knock for us. Couldn’t be happier for him.”
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Puerto Rico set up a quarter-final showdown with Pool C winners Mexico after a 5-2 victory over the star-studded Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic had been seen as one of the tournament favorites but instead were eliminated before the knockout rounds after a superb performance from Puerto Rico at LoanDepot Park in Miami.
Puerto Rico took control of the contest in the third inning, with Christian Vazquez belting a home run off Johnny Cueto before Francisco Lindor and Enrique Hernandez drove in RBI singles. MJ Melendez then groundout to score Lindor and give Puerto Rico a 4-0 lead.
San Diego Padres superstar Juan Soto got the Dominicans on the board with a monstrous 448-foot homer over center field in the bottom of the third.
But Puerto Rico hit back with a rare inside-the-park home run from Lindor in the top of the fifth, the New York Mets shortstop speeding around the bases after a fielding blunder by center-fielder Julio Rodriguez to make it 5-1.
Puerto Rico’s victory celebrations turned bittersweet however when Mets closer Edwin Diaz suffered what looked like a serious injury to his right knee as the players danced in delight after the win. Diaz was helped off the field before exiting in a wheelchair.
Puerto Rico’s quarter-final opponents Mexico meanwhile made sure of topping Pool C earlier Wednesday with a 10-3 mauling of Canada in Phoenix.
In Wednesday’s other game, Venezuela completed their perfect first round campaign with a 5-1 win over Israel in Pool D in Miami to set up Friday’s last eight date with the USA.