Puerto Rico leader Pagan getting used to championship baseball

Puerto Rico leader Pagan getting used to championship baseball
March 19, 2013, 4:45 pm
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Angel Pagan is 11-for-30 (.367) over Puerto Rico's first eight games. His 11 hits are second-most in the tournament. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

They call him 'Crazy Horse' for a reason.
—Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's a strangely familiar feeling for Angel Pagan, taking the AT&T Park field for championship baseball.

One hundred and fifty six days ago, Pagan prepared to compete for San Francisco (population 800K) in his first World Series appearance. Tuesday, Pagan will trot to a familiar spot in center field to compete for his native Puerto Rico (population 3.6 million) in its first World Baseball Classic final.

If you ask Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez, there is no player more important to the country's WBC tournament run than the Giants outfielder.

"He means a lot," Rodriguez said of Pagan before taking on the Dominican Republic for the 2013 trophy. "If you want to pick a player to represent the team and Puerto Rico, it's him ... along with (Yadier Molina). Those two guys are the main guys."

Those two guys went head-to-head in the 2012 NLCS between the Giants and Cardinals, which ended memorably in Game 7's torrential downpour. That day, Pagan and Molina left AT&T Park experiencing entirely offsetting emotions. Tuesday, they will win or lose together with their collective emotions tied to the nation they left their rival clubs to represent.

Pagan, 31, is 11-for-30 (.367) over Puerto Rico's first eight games. His 11 hits are the second most in the tournament (tied with Cuba's Jose Fernandez behind only Robinson Cano's 15). They are also the most ever recorded by a Puerto Rican in a single WBC (Ivan Rodriguez had 10 in 2006). Molina is holding his own, too, batting .304 (7-for-23) in addition to his typically stalwart job behind the dish.

That physical seven-game series less than six months ago could easily have created bad blood between the compatriots. Instead, Pagan and Molina are teaming up to lead an impressive run through the 16-team tournament. At 5-3, Puerto Rico is in the finals, with two of those losses coming at the hands of their championship foes from the Dominican Republic.

As important as it is to the players, Tuesday's World Baseball Classic final could be more important to the native countries as a whole.

"The only thing I can tell you is in the Domincan Republic, there will be nobody in the streets," D.R. manager Tony Pena said. "The whole country, the whole country will be watching the ballgame."

Pagan, whose Caribbean island rests less than 100 miles east of Pena's Dominican Republic, is well aware of the national importance. He's even adopting the inspirational role of Giants teammate Hunter Pence and administering "The Reverend's" pregame pep-talks in a familiar place in the Giants dugout.

"They call him 'Crazy Horse' for a reason," said Rodriguez, who scouted Pagan in Puerto Rico as a high-schooler. "He always played the game like that -- very intense, great passion for the game, respect for the game, respect for the opposing team. He plays the game right."

With a World Series title, a newly-minted four-year, $40 million contract and a berth in the 2013 World Baseball Classic final, Pagan is earning Rodriguez's praise with championship baseball.

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