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.
On Thursday, demonstrative Dominicans dominated the All-Star-laden U.S. lineup. The Americans endured a scoreless streak of 14 innings spanning the two defeats, and Figueroa limited them to two singles in six shutout innings.
J.C. Romero escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and retired the final four batters for his first save. The last out triggered a pileup of Puerto Ricans behind the mound.
They advanced for the first time to the semifinals, which begin Sunday in San Francisco. They’ll play the Dominican Republic on Saturday 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. After pitching in Triple-A last year, he dominated the Americans, allowing only a single by Brandon Phillips in the fourth and a single by Jimmy Rollins in the sixth.
Puerto Rico lost to the United States 7-1 on Tuesday, then staved off elimination Wednesday, rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the eighth inning to beat Italy.
The hits kept coming Friday, and the Puerto Ricans scored all four runs with two out. Mike Aviles had an RBI single in the first, and Andy Gonzalez doubled home two runs in the sixth.