By improving to 2-0 in Pool F play, Baez's squad clinched a spot in the four-team, single-elimination semifinals and final at Dodger Stadium, even before it plays Venezuela at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. After that contest, the U.S. will meet the Dominican Republic at 10 p.m., with the final championship-round berth on the line (Both games will air live on MLB Network and MLB.TV).
Baez first showed off his basestealing by swiping third base in the first inning, but his biggest moment came in the sixth. A 4-0 Puerto Rico lead had dwindled to 4-3 when U.S. reliever Mychal Givens hit Baez with a pitch to begin the frame.
On a 2-0 fastball from Givens, Baez took off and made it to second easily, and the key was his secondary lead. At a sizable 27 feet, it eclipsed the 2016 MLB average of 23 feet on successful steals of second. It also was three feet farther than Baez had gotten on any regular-season attempt in the Statcast™ Era -- though he matched it in the 2015 postseason against the Cardinals -- and would have been the Cubs' fifth-largest distance on a steal of second last season.
That head start put U.S. catcher Buster Posey in a tough spot. Posey's pop time of 1.93 seconds would have qualified as his third-fastest individual time to second last year and easily beaten his average of 2.03 seconds. His 81.4-mph throw, which one-hopped shortstop Brandon Crawford, would have been his 13th-hardest on a steal attempt.
When Posey recorded a pop time of less than two seconds on a steal attempt of second base last season, he got his man seven of 10 times. When he threw harder than 81.4 mph, he went 8-for-12. But in this case, Baez essentially had the base stolen off of Givens.
Later in the frame, with one out, Baez remained on second with Eddie Rosario on first. As Enrique Hernandez faced lefty Andrew Miller, both broke for the next base. Secondary leads typically are longer off second base than off first, and indeed, Baez made it 30 feet -- slightly less than the 31 feet he managed while stealing third earlier in the game.
Posey once again faced a difficult task, especially on a pitch in the dirt, with a right-handed batter at the plate. While Posey's pop time (1.63 seconds) was faster because of the shorter distance to third base, his exchange between receiving the ball and getting rid of it (0.80 seconds) was slower than on Baez's previous attempt that inning (0.71 seconds). His 80-mph throw also drifted off-line into foul territory, and Baez dove in safely.
After Hernandez struck out, third baseman Nolan Arenado's throwing error on Angel Pagan's ground ball scored both Baez and Rosario and gave Puerto Rico a 6-3 edge. Those runs loomed large when the U.S. scored twice in the ninth and put the potential tying run on third base before Edwin Diaz struck out Josh Harrison for the final out.
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 games in San Diego's Petco Park and the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.