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Venezuela wins, takes top seed

Chris Iannetta and Team USA were disappointed by Wednesday’s loss to Venezuela.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Chris Iannetta and Team USA were disappointed by Wednesday’s loss to Venezuela. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Francisco Rodriguez loves pitching for his country.

Henry Blanco homered and made a key throw in the ninth inning to help Francisco Rodriguez earn the save as Venezuela beat the United States 5-3 on Wednesday night to win Group C at the World Baseball Classic in Tortonto.

“For some reason I feel like right now I’m at another level,” said Rodriguez, who signed a $37 million, three-year contract with the New York Mets this offseason. “Just to be able to wear a Venezuelan jersey, it’s totally different for some reason. I don’t know why, but it’s totally different to be able to play with your country.

Gregor Blanco added three hits for Venezuela, which avenged a 15-6 loss to the Americans on Sunday night.

“It’s a big deal for us, beating the United States, because they’re one of the greatest teams in the world,” he said. “We showed them we can play baseball, too. We showed them we can win games.”

Both teams are headed to the second round of the tournament in Miami, where the U.S. will open against Group D winner Puerto Rico (3-0) on Saturday night.

Venezuela will face a surprising Netherlands team earlier in the day.

Chris Iannetta hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning, but Team USA couldn’t finish the comeback in the ninth.

Jimmy Rollins walked and Jeter reached on a one-out error by third baseman Luis Maza. With cleanup hitter Kevin Youkilis at the plate, the United States tried a double steal and Blanco’s strong throw cut down Jeter – the trail runner – at second base.

“It was a perfect throw but I can’t get thrown out in that situation, not the tying run,” Jeter said. “We tried to be aggressive. I had an idea that Jimmy was going to go.

“That can’t happen, whether it was a perfect throw or not.”

Rodriguez closed it out on the next pitch by striking out Youkilis.

Puerto Rico 5, Netherlands 0: Alex Rios hit an RBI triple and Puerto Rico beat the Netherlands in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to finish undefeated in the first round of the World Baseball Classic.

Carlos Beltran, Ivan Rodriguez and Geovany Soto each drove in a run for Puerto Rico, which won Group D and will face the U.S. in their second-round opener Saturday night in Miami.

It was the second win for Puerto Rico over a scrappy Dutch squad, which earlier eliminated the star-laden Dominican Republic with a pair of stunning upsets.

The Netherlands is also headed to the second round in Miami, where it will play Venezuela on Saturday.

Mexico 16, Australia 1 (7): Karim Garcia went 4 for 4 with two homers and Mexico (2-1) eliminated Australia (1-2) from the World Baseball Classic with a six-inning victory at Mexico City.

Mexico will face Cuba today for the first place of Group B. Both teams are headed for San Diego, where Japan and South Korea await in the next round.