MIAMI — The game had been over for an hour late Friday night when pitcher Alexis Diaz walked out of the Puerto Rico clubhouse with his head down after their 5-4 loss to Mexico, trying to keep his composure.
He was trying to figure out how a beautiful dream from just 48 hours ago could turn into a horrible nightmare.
It wasn’t until Wednesday night, on that same LoanDepot Park field, that Puerto Rico defeated the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, one of the greatest triumphs in its proud baseball history.
Edwin Diaz, Alexis’ big brother, had just hit the side in the ninth, and was jumping for joy. Alexis and his teammates rush. They jumped into his arms, and began to celebrate one of the best nights of their lives.
It was the first time the two brothers had played together on the same professional baseball field, and now they were experiencing the same euphoria together.
Seconds later, Edwin Diaz collapsed to the ground, screaming in pain, his right knee flexing. Alexis stood to the side, tears streaming down her face, watching her brother leave the field in a wheelchair.
Now, with his brother undergoing season-ending knee surgery, Diaz entered the game in the seventh inning on Friday asked to protect a 4-2 lead.
Austin Barnes greeted him with a double. Randy Arozarena walked. Alex Verdugo walked.
Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina rushed to the mound to take Diaz out of the game, but the damage was already done. He sat on the bench and watched Isaac Peredes hit a two-out, two-run single against Jorge Lopez to tie the game, then Luis Urias hit a game-clinching single.
Just like that, it was over.
Mexico advanced to the WBC semi-finals for the first time in baseball’s biggest victory in the country, Puerto Rico’s WBC title hopes were over and Diaz planned to fly back to Arizona for camp. Cincinnati Reds spring training.
Baseball, man, can be cruel.
“It’s been really painful, honestly, the last few days,” Diaz said. “I wanted to be there with my brother, especially with what happened to him.”
Diaz stopped, collected himself, and said, “But I’m a warrior. I have a warrior’s heart. I will do my best to have a good season and continue.
Diaz’s teammates consoled him. He spoke to his brother. Everyone gave the same advice.
“My teammates just told me it’s part of the game, don’t put your head down,” Diaz said, “just keep doing what I’m doing.”
And the words of the big brother?
“He said to just block out the outside noise,” Diaz said, “keep focusing on myself. These are things that happen in the game. …
“He went through a similar situation in 2019.”
It was Edwin’s first season with the Mets, after being traded from the Seattle Mariners, and he went 2-7 with a 5.59 ERA, and nearly got booed from New York. Today, he is considered the most dominant in the game.
Maybe everything would have been different if Edwin Diaz had never been injured –
but Alexis argued that he was emotionally fine.
“I felt calm in that moment,” Diaz said, “I felt comfortable with my mechanics. Those were just things that happened during the game.”
Diaz will now have a long flight back to Arizona, still believing the WBC will make him a better pitcher, maybe even a stronger one mentally.
“I learned a lot of valuable lessons from this experience,” he said. “I am fairly inexperienced in my professional career. It’s something that I will carry with me throughout my career. …
“I just want kids to know whenever you face adversity, keep going and don’t back down. Keep doing what you’re doing, trust the process and good things will happen.”
Certainly, Mexico shows this resilience in this tournament. They lost the opener in a stunning upset against Colombia. Yet a day later, they knocked out Team USA, hung on to beat Great Britain and overtook Canada to win Pool C in Phoenix.
“The most important game in most of these guys’ lives, including mine, is tonight,” Mexico manager Benji Gil said before the game. “God willing, we win tonight, and then after the game, more than likely some tequilas, maybe a beer.”
Mexico trailed 4-0 in the first inning with ace Julio Urias, but then shut down Puerto Rico on just four hits after the left-hander left the Dodgers.
“The adjustment hasn’t been to give up, keep looking forward,” Gil said, “no matter how hard the blow. A hero I had, the idol of the sport in Mexico is [boxer] Julio Cesar Chavez. And in 1990, he lost against [Meldrick] He and Taylor kept fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, and he ended up winning that fight.
“Julio Cesar Chavez is a great friend of mine. He sent many messages supporting the team. I thought of him. The Mexican team will never give up if we have other Mexican warriors who have never given up.”
Now here they are, just two wins away from stunning the world and winning their first WBC.
“The most important thing, in my opinion, is that we show what Mexican players are capable of at the highest level,” Gil said. “It’s a blessing to be able to be a part of this and to have a little piece in guiding them, leading them as Mexican warriors.”
Their next game is Monday night against heavily favored Japan.
Julio Cesar Chavez will be watching.
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