LOS ANGELES -- Monday's World Baseball Classic bout between Puerto Rico and the Netherlands -- won by P.R., 4-3, in 11 innings -- didn't waste any time providing exciting action, and Yadier Molina was right in the middle of it.
The Netherlands learned firsthand why Molina is considered among the best defensive catchers in the game, as the Cardinals' star threw out two Netherlands baserunners in the first inning.
Puerto Rico will face the winner of Tuesday's USA-Japan game in Wednesday's final. You can watch all championship round games live on MLB.TV and MLB Network. Puerto Rico will be the home team on Wednesday at 9 p.m. if the U.S. moves on, and if it meets Japan, the home-road teams will be determined by a coin flip.
The Dutch got off to a strong start against Puerto Rican starter Jorge Lopez with their first two batters reaching base. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons led off the game with a single, and Xander Bogaerts reached on a hit-by-pitch. With Jurickson Profar at the plate, Molina caught Simmons straying a little too far from second base, and he was tagged out in a rundown by the left side of Puerto Rico's infield.
Profar then knocked a single to right, putting the Netherlands in prime position with runners at the corners and one out. But again, Molina took advantage of a Dutch baserunning gaffe, throwing out Profar, who was celebrating his hit off the first-base bag.
"In games like this, if you make mistakes like that, you give the other team a chance," Profar said. "We were in the semifinals, it's not like we were in pool play or something. And I made that mistake, and we paid for it."
Molina, feeding off the energy of a loud contingent of Puerto Rico fans, was visibly fired up, celebrating the play by jumping up and down at the plate and pumping his fist.
"That first inning that Yadi Molina did what he did, for me, that was the game," Puerto Rican manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "Yadier Molina came to play."
The Netherlands would get its moment to celebrate one at-bat later when Wladimir Balentien launched a mammoth two-run shot into left-center. Puerto Rico evened the game in the home half on Carlos Correa's homer, however, erasing a 2-0 Netherlands lead that could have been more significant if not for the earlier miscues.
Puerto Rico struck again in the second inning on a solo home run by the Mets' T.J. Rivera.
Molina added another defensive highlight to his reel in the fifth inning in a pivotal play at the plate to tag out Jonathan Schoop. With runners on first and second and two outs, Netherlands catcher Shawn Zarraga knocked a double off the wall in left to plate Balentien. With Schoop running from first, Puerto Rican left fielder Angel Pagan barehanded the ball off the wall and quickly fired it to relay man Javier Baez, who threw home. Molina made the catch as he simultaneously applied the tag on Schoop, keeping the go-ahead run off the board. Molina's tag was confirmed after a 48-second replay review.
Molina also figured prominently into the game-winning rally in the 11th. After laying down an unsuccessful sacrifice bunt attempt in the eighth inning -- he popped out to Zarraga in foul territory -- Molina successfully moved Correa to third base with another attempt in the 11th. It put Correa in position to score the game-winning run on Eddie Rosario's sacrifice fly two at-bats later.
The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.