3/20/2013 2:01 A.M. ET
Thanks to Classic run, 'baseball is back' in PR
By Sam King / Special to MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- As a multicolored mess of confetti and light raindrops fell from the sky, Angel Pagan's pride shielded him from the Dominican Republic celebration going on a few feet away.
Less than five months ago, Pagan, the center fielder of Team Puerto Rico and the San Francisco Giants, discovered what it was like to be in the dogpile, to wear the freshly unboxed championship T-shirt and cap.
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When Puerto Rico's World Baseball Classic ride ended Tuesday night at AT&T Park -- Pagan's home field -- there weren't feelings of regret or disappointment because the center fielder was able to visualize the sights of his nation.
"Our country is paralyzed right now," said Pagan, who set a Classic record for Puerto Rico with 12 hits. "They are just watching us. No criminality. It's just one country right now."
When the Puerto Ricans upset two-time defending World Baseball Classic champion Japan on Sunday, 74 percent of the televisions in the country were tuned in during the final moments. It was the highest-rated sports broadcast in Puerto Rico in the last year.
"You don't know how much this means," said Carlos Beltran, who has participated in all three Classics. "You think about your family, everybody in Puerto Rico the past few days, there has been no people hurt in the streets. Through sport, we were able to unify a country."
They did so without a lot of star power. Sure, there was the presence of Pagan, Beltran, Alex Rios and Yadier Molina. Cleveland Indians shortstop Mike Aviles drove in a Puerto Rico-record nine runs during the 2013 Classic.
But there were other important contributions. Nelson Figueroa, who pitched at the Triple-A level last season, pitched six shutout innings against the United States last Friday to help Puerto Rico advance to the championship round. Mario Santiago, a Minor Leaguer throughout his career, pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the 3-1 semifinal victory over Japan on Sunday night.
"We didn't have a lot of big names," manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "The people who were here wanted to be here. They had a mission and that was to give everything."
Victories over Spain and Venezuela propelled Puerto Rico into the second round of the Classic, where its run ended four years ago at the hands of the United States. This time, Puerto Rico avenged a 7-1 loss to the U.S. in round two to win a 4-3 elimination game and advance to the semifinals for the first time.
When the Dominican Republic won a seeding game in the second round, Puerto Rico was forced to fly from Miami to San Francisco and play a game the following day, without preparation, against the favored Japanese.
Again, Puerto Rico was up to the task and stunned Japan with a stellar pitching performance to advance to Tuesday's championship.
Though a 3-0 loss ended an unforgettable journey, it did not diminish the accomplishment.
"To me, this moment was needed for my country," Pagan said. "Baseball is not doing that good. We need to be a positive example for a country and hopefully they are proud of us right now. Baseball is back in Puerto Rico and that's what it is all about."
Sam King is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.