03/19/2013 8:28 PM ET
Rodriguez enjoying Puerto Rico's rise in Classic
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The meeting between Caribbean rivals Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic for the World Baseball Classic championship on Tuesday night was the fulfillment of a projection made by the teams' managers when the Classic opened earlier in the month.
"Since day one when we were in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tony Pena and myself were talking about this day today," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "And we were looking forward to this day.
"Back then, they were talking, `Yeah, Dominican Republic will be there, but Puerto Rico, that's a long shot.' But we are here. So we're enjoying the moment and we're having fun.
"We have a lot of respect not only for the Dominican Republic players, but also for the Dominican community, which is a huge one in Puerto Rico."
The rivalry, fueled by geographical proximity, has a long, rich history. The Dominican has had the upper hand of late with a higher representation of players in the Majors, but Puerto Rico's history in the sport is equally impressive with Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto and Sandy Alomar, Bernie Williams and, more recently, the Molina brothers -- Bengie, Jose and Yadier.
"I think the major motivation has always been on our side coming from within us," Rodriguez said. "We've already been beaten by them twice, maybe that's true. But I think that first and foremost, this is a championship. And second, we are each representing our countries, and so that's almost a hundred percent of our motivation."
Pagan inspired by legacy Clemente left on PR
SAN FRANCISCO -- Roberto Clemente was well before Angel Pagan's time, but there is a link to the legend that keeps the greatest of all Puerto Rican ballplayers in the thoughts of the Giants' center fielder and leadoff man for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
"I never saw him play, but I've seen all the [video] and clips," Pagan said heading into Tuesday night's championship finale against the Dominican Republic. "He was my father-in-law's neighbor. He told me all about him. That's a big example, the legacy I want in baseball."
Pagan leads his team in the Classic through eight games with a .367 average, .500 slugging mark and .441 on-base percentage.
As a child growing up Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, taken by the Mets in the fourth round of the 1999 Draft out of high school, Pagan's role models were stars of a more recent vintage.
"I want to be the player kids follow, the way I did Robbie Alomar and Bernie Williams," Pagan said. "They were the type of players who made me what I am. We have a big responsibility to project for the young people in our country. We want to put Puerto Rico as high as we can."
Pagan, who starred for the Giants' 2012 World Series champions after coming to San Francisco from the Mets, was hoping to bring his homeland its first Classic title with a victory on his home field, AT&T Park. The Dominican Republic took close decisions in two earlier Classic engagements.
"Obviously, the Dominicans beat us twice," Pagan said. "But we're ready to win this game. We think we can beat anybody."
Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez has been liberal in praise of Pagan's leadership.
"Angel Pagan, he shows the intensity that the club has been performing [with] throughout the tournament, the commitment that the club has for the country," Rodriguez said. "And I think Angel Pagan represents all of that and the talent that the club has on the field.
"They call him `Crazy Horse' for a reason. He plays like that. He's always been playing like that. I was a scout back then when he was a player in high school, and he always been like that: very intense, a lot of passion for the game, respects the game. He respects the opposing team and he plays the game right. So he means a lot for the team."
PR's Cabrera helps bid for bigs during Classic
SAN FRANCISCO -- When Fernando Cabrera nailed down the final two outs of Puerto Rico's semifinal victory over Japan on Sunday night, it was his third save of the Classic in four appearances.
A 6-foot-4 right-hander with seven years of Major League experience with the Indians, Orioles and Red Sox, Cabrera has retired six of the seven hitters he has faced, walking one with three strikeouts. He is hoping to use his work in the Classic to open some eyes with the Angels' brass in his bid to claim a job in their bullpen -- if not immediately, sometime this season.
Cabrera is 8-7 with a 5.24 ERA in 132 Major League appearances. He hasn't pitched in the Majors since making one appearance for the Red Sox in 2010. He spent last season with the Mets' Triple-A Buffalo affiliate in the International League, making 57 appearances.
"My focus now is helping my team win this for our country," Cabrera, 31, said. ""Everything's working, everyone is doing their job. That's how winners are. We have superstars, guys like [Yadier] Molina, [Carlos] Beltran, [Alex] Rios and [Angel] Pagan, and we also have these young guys who are learning how to win. Everybody's contributing. If we aren't hitting, we're playing good defense and pitching well. We've been building confidence as we've gone along.
"Hopefully, what I've been doing in this tournament can help me the rest of the year. My goal is to get back to the big leagues. I want to have another chance. Everything starts in Spring Training, and that means the WBC for me. The Angels gave me an opportunity, and I'm going to give them everything I've got. Right now, I'm helping this Puerto Rico team try to win the tournament."
• Mike Aviles has been Mr. Clutch for Puerto Rico, driving in nine of the team's 23 runs, 39 percent, in the Classic. The nine RBIs represent a team record for the Classic and have Aviles tied for second in the current Classic, one behind Team USA's David Wright. With 11 career RBIs, Aviles is tied for seventh in Classic play.
• Angel Pagan's 11 hits are a Puerto Rican record for the Classic, eclipsing the 10 produced by Ivan Rodriguez in 2006. Robinson Cano of the Dominican Republic is the leader in this Classic with 15 hits. Puerto Rico's Carlos Beltran has 20 career hits in the Classic, tying Jorge Cantu for fourth in the three-year history of the event. Cuba's Frederich Cepeda is the leader with 31 hits. Jose Rios is tied for fourth with his teammate, Beltran, with 13 runs scored in the Classic, a category also led by Cedepa with 17.
• Puerto Rico's pitching staff has held opponents to a .229 batting average in the Classic, yielding only two home runs in 70 innings. The pitchers uniformly attribute their success to the stellar work of Yadier Molina, described by reliever Fernando Cabrera as "the best catcher in the world -- and everybody knows that."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.