SAN FRANCISCO---It was a different feeling that blanketed AT&T Park. While the ballpark was filled with life, as it has been in the past few years, the life took on a different flavor.
There were flags waving in random seats in the stands—fans proudly waving flags in support of one of the teams of the World Baseball Classic Semifinal Game 1, Japan and Puerto Rico.
Japan, the favorite to win this game, was shocked when the Puerto Rican team handed them a 3-1 loss, thus eliminating the defending WBC Champions from the tournament.
Puerto Rico's Mario Santiago set the tone with his dominating performance on the mound. In his 4.1 innings, the right-hander only allowed two hits and kept the Japanese hitters scoreless.
"I'm really happy. I know people in Puerto Rico must be so proud of our team that we have come so far. Our team, since we went to Florida to train, we have been really united and together," Santiago said after the game. "That's what makes us really happy—because their hearts are with us and we're with them."
While chants of "Puer-to Ri-co! Puer-to Ri-co!" echoed through the ballpark, they were countered by the cheers of Team Japan's fans. Equipped with beating drums, a horn section, thunder sticks, and familiar songs that fans sang along to, the Japanese fans made their presence known.
Team Japan manager Koji Yamamoto mentioned that they "felt the warm support of the fans" despite the loss and feel they were just overpowered by a team that was "superior" to them in both hitting and pitching.
"The opponent was a great team today," Yamamoto said. "Hitters were good, they did really aggressively, and especially the pitchers were really good. So it was really hard to find the opportunity or seize the opportunity, so in that sense, you either win or lose in any game, and today our opponent was better."
It wasn't until the seventh inning that Puerto Rico added insurance runs to their 1-0 lead. With a runner on base and no outs, Team Puerto Rico's Alex Rios broke out of his WBC slump and hit a monster home run to all but seal the deal for his team.
Japan tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn't plate any more to change their fate.
With a crowd of 33,683 fans cheering, Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez was aware that many of them were for Japan, but also recognized the fans' support of "good baseball."
"We understand that we're in San Francisco and we all know that the West Coast, San Francisco, there's a huge Asian fan base here and we all saw that today," Rodriguez said. "But, yeah, it was good to see a lot of Puerto Ricans there and a lot of the Americans have been cheering for us. But I think that the fans at this point, they're just cheering for good teams, for good baseball. I think that's what we saw today."
Puerto Rico will next face the winner of tomorrow's second semifinal game, Dominican Republic versus the Netherlands, in the WBC Finals on Tuesday evening.