With one swing of the bat Sunday, Alex Rios is no longer riding on the coattails of his Puerto Rico teammates.
The White Sox outfielder, who had been struggling during the first two rounds of the World Baseball Classic, helped put his Puerto Rico team into Tuesday’s championship game with a towering two-run home run.
Puerto Rico went on to a 3-1 victory over Japan on Sunday in the first semifinal game. The Netherlands will take on the Dominican Republic in the other semifinal Monday.
With Puerto Rico clinging to a precarious 1-0 lead in the seventh inning, Rios blasted his two-run shot deep into the seats in left field at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. He added a single one inning later.
"I'm just trying to keep it simple," Rios told the MLB Network immediately after the game. "At this time of the year you can't focus on mechanics or anything else. I'm just trying to have a better approach and forget about everything else."
Rios had just three singles in the team’s first seven games and did not have an RBI. He has managed to score seven runs, though, to lead the team.
The Puerto Rico victory means there will be a new WBC champion. Japan had won the event the first two times it was contested.
"This is unbelievable," Rios said. "Whenever you put your country's name on your chest, it's something we do with pride. We go out there and give everything we got. It feels like there is no description to it. We are so proud of what we have accomplished and let's see what happens."
If the Dominican Republic advances to the championship game, it will match White Sox outfielders against each other. Alejandro De Aza has four hits in 18 at-bats (.222) for the Dominican Republic with three RBIs, but has already has struck out six times.