Puerto Rico has players used to biggest stage
Molinas, Romero, Pagan have been part of World Series-winning clubs
SAN FRANCISCO -- When Team Puerto Rico arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., last month to prepare for the World Baseball Classic, manager Edwin Rodriguez recognized the key element of his club right away.
Four members of his roster -- J.C. Romero (Phillies, 2008), Jose Molina (Yankees, '09), Yadier Molina (Cardinals, '06 and '11) and Angel Pagan (Giants, '12) -- have won World Series titles in the last five seasons.
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"We talked about that the first day," Rodriguez said. "That we do have players who have been through the World Series experience."
For Rodriguez, his players and all their excited followers back home, no game is bigger than Tuesday's World Baseball Classic championship at AT&T Park (watch on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes at 8 p.m. ET). The Puerto Ricans know they are inspiring a nation.
"The whole tournament, it's been exciting for us and we're very proud of what we have done," said Alex Rios, who hit a two-run homer in Sunday's 3-1 semifinal victory over Japan. "And it means a lot to us and for our fans."
Rios, an outfielder for the White Sox, is one of nine Puerto Rico players to appear on a Major League roster last season.
Yadier Molina has 63 postseason games under his belt and 27 RBIs in the playoffs. Romero has pitched in 25 postseason games, accumulating a 3.15 ERA. Jose Molina has hit .286 in 15 games. And Pagan used his defense and timely home runs to help Giants fans overlook his .188 batting average in the 2012 postseason.
Those veterans have been mentors to the younger players on the roster. After a tough 2-0 loss at Marlins Park to the Dominican Republic on Saturday afternoon, which came just hours after a thrilling victory over the United States that qualified Puerto Rico for the Classic semifinals for the first time, the team finally arrived about 11 p.m. in San Francisco.
For the veterans, it goes with the business.
"A lot of guys there are playing in the big leagues and they know that's just the nature of the game," said Javier Vazquez, a former big league pitcher who played 14 seasons in the Majors and is helping the Puerto Rico staff in the Classic.
"We travel East Coast to West Coast and West Coast to East Coast and play the next day. That's the bottom line. There are no excuses. The guys know it, and we're ready to play."
Sam King is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.