MIAMI: US captain Mike Trout drove in all three runs as the United States defeated Colombia 3-2 on Wednesday to book their place in the quarter-finals of the World Baseball Classic.
Los Angeles Angels outfielder Trout — one of the figureheads of a star-studded US line-up — knocked in singles in the third and fifth innings to send the US into the last eight.
The Americans, who have recovered after being upset by Mexico in their second game in Pool C on Sunday, will now face Venezuela in Miami on Friday, with a semi-final showdown with Cuba awaiting the winner.
Colombia, needing a big win over the hosts to have any chance of progressing on Wednesday, raised the prospect of an upset after Reynaldo Rodriguez doubled to score Jorge Alfaro for a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third.
But Trout singled in the fifth inning to score Los Angeles Dodgers duo Will Smith and Mookie Betts and put the USA 3-2 ahead.
Closer Ryan Pressly then got the save in the ninth to wrap up the win.
US manager Mark DeRosa lavished praise on the Americans’ game-winner Trout.
“I see one of the best players of all time,” DeRosa said of Trout. “The way he’s able to swing the baseball bat… it was a huge knock for us. Couldn’t be happier for him.”
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Puerto Rico set up a quarter-final showdown with Pool C winners Mexico after a 5-2 victory over the star-studded Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic had been seen as one of the tournament favourites but instead were eliminated before the knockout rounds after a superb performance from Puerto Rico at LoanDepot Park in Miami.
Puerto Rico took control of the contest in the third inning, with Christian Vazquez belting a home run off Johnny Cueto before Francisco Lindor and Enrique Hernandez drove in RBI singles. MJ Melendez then ground out to score Lindor and give Puerto Rico a 4-0 lead.
San Diego Padres superstar Juan Soto got the Dominicans on the board with a monstrous 448-foot homer over centre field in the bottom of the third.
But Puerto Rico hit back with a rare inside-the-park home run from Lindor in the top of the fifth, the New York Mets shortstop speeding around the bases after a fielding blunder by centre-fielder Julio Rodriguez to make it 5-1.
Puerto Rico’s victory celebrations turned bittersweet however when Mets closer Edwin Diaz suffered what looked like a serious injury to his right knee as the players danced in delight after the win. Diaz was helped off the field before exiting in a wheelchair.
Puerto Rico’s quarter-final opponents Mexico meanwhile made sure of topping Pool C earlier Wednesday with a 10-3 mauling of Canada in Phoenix.
In Wednesday’s other game, Venezuela completed their perfect first-round campaign with a 5-1 win over Israel in Pool D in Miami to set up Friday’s last eight dates with the USA.