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 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."
The Puerto Ricans advanced for the first time to the semifinals, which begin Sunday in San Francisco. They'll play the Dominican Republic today 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. He pitched in Triple-A last year but dominated the best of the U.S.