MIAMI >> Once again, the United States could only watch as an opposing pitcher celebrated at the World Baseball Classic.
This time it was 38-year-old right-hander Nelson Figueroa, who became the pride of Puerto Rico on Friday night when he led his team into the semifinals and eliminated the Americans, 4-3.
After Figueroa threw his last pitch to end the sixth inning, he leaped off the mound with a hoot like a kid at recess, then ran to catcher Yadier Molina to share a hug.
On Thursday, demonstrative Dominicans dominated the All-Star-laden U.S. lineup. The Americans endured a scoreless streak of 14 innings spanning the two defeats, and Figueroa limited them to two singles in six shutout innings.
J.C. Romero escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and retired the final four batters for his first save. The last out triggered a pileup of Puerto Ricans behind the mound.
They advanced for the first time to the semifinals, which begin Sunday in San Francisco. They’ll play the Dominican Republic on Saturday in the final game in Miami, which will determine seedings for the championship round.
Two-time defending champion Japan and the Netherlands round out the final four.
Figueroa (2-0) has a modest 20-35 record for six teams in nine major-league seasons, with his most recent big-league game in May 2011. After pitching in Triple-A last year, he dominated the Americans, allowing only a single by Brandon Phillips in the fourth and a single by Jimmy Rollins in the sixth.
Puerto Rico lost to the United States 7-1 on Tuesday, then staved off elimination Wednesday, rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the eighth inning to beat Italy.
The hits kept coming Friday, and the Puerto Ricans scored all four runs with two out. Mike Aviles had an RBI single in the first, and Andy Gonzalez doubled home two runs in the sixth.
Ryan Vogelsong (1-1) gave up two runs in 5 2-3 innings.
When Figueroa hit the tournament’s 80-pitch limit, Giovanni Soto came on and gave up an RBI single to Giancarlo Stanton in the seventh.
Trailing 4-1, the Americans continued their rally in the eighth. Rollins and Phillips singled off Jose De La Torre, and Ryan Braun followed with an RBI double. Joe Mauer walked to load the bases, and with two out, Fernando Cabrera walked Ben Zobrist to force in a run and make it 4-3.
Eric Hosmer then grounded out again Romero, who followed with a perfect ninth.
The crowd of 19,762 was smaller and more subdued than on Thursday, when the Dominican Republic transformed the ballpark into a Caribbean carnival by beating the United States. But Puerto Rican fans honked air horns and waved flags with each hit by their team and each out by the Americans.
Puerto Rico scored in the first inning on a leadoff single by Angel Pagan and two-out singles by Molina and Aviles.
The Puerto Ricans added three runs in the sixth, helped by three walks. Vinny Pestano replaced Vogelsong and walked in a run, then gave up Gonzalez’s double.