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Puerto Rico Combines for First Perfect Game in W.B.C. History

With a nine-run lead in the eighth inning on Monday, Puerto Rico utility man Enrique Hernández stepped to the plate against Israel with two runners on base. He proceeded to lace the ball to left field, ending the game with a walk-off single that capped a four-pitcher perfect game and a 10-0 victory at the World Baseball Classic at loanDepot park in Miami.

Wait, what?

The unusual eighth-inning walk-off came by way of the W.B.C.’s rules to protect players. Because the tournament is being held as players are still ramping up in Major League Baseball’s spring training, there is a mercy rule in place during pool play. Any game in which a team is leading by 15 runs after five innings, or by 10 runs after seven innings, is declared over.

So when Hernández drove in catcher Martín Maldonado from second base, his teammates ran onto the field and mobbed him for finishing off a wildly dominant performance.

Since the contest did not go nine innings, it would not be recognized as a perfect game by M.L.B. rules, but it was the first “perfect” game in W.B.C. history regardless of length, and the players had no problem celebrating it like a playoff win.

It was the second no-hitter in W.B.C. history, which dates back to 2006. In the inaugural tournament, Shairon Martis, a right-hander for the Netherlands, threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Panama that also ended because of the mercy rule and was also a 10-0 victory.

“We are very happy,” Puerto Rico Manager Yadier Molina told reporters. “I’m very happy with the guys.”

José De León, Puerto Rico’s right-handed starting pitcher, was stellar, striking out 10 Israel batters over five and two-thirds innings. He couldn’t attempt to finish his perfect game bid, however, because W.B.C. rules limit pitchers to 65 pitches per game in the first round. De León, who has struggled in 22 major league appearances, had thrown 64, so Molina had to turn to the bullpen.

Three more pitchers for Puerto Rico — Yacksel Ríos, the Mets’ closer Edwin Díaz, and Duane Underwood Jr. — combined for two and one-third perfect innings. In all, Puerto Rico’s pitchers needed only 88 pitches to record the eight perfect innings, striking out 12 batters along the way.

On offense, Puerto Rico was nearly as dominant. The team captain and Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor led the way with two hits, including a bases-clearing triple in the fifth inning, and Javier Báez complemented his two hits with a slick slide into third base to avoid a tag that will be on highlight reels for years to come.

With two days remaining in Pool D play, Puerto Rico improved to 2-1 and remained in prime position to advance to the quarterfinals. Israel, on the other hand, fell to 1-1.

“The faster we can forget about this one, the better,” Israel Manager Ian Kinsler said.

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