Angel Pagan finally arrives after leaving Mets; Puerto Rico reaches final

Puerto Rico's Angel Pagan watches Japan take batting

Puerto Rico's Angel Pagan watches Japan take batting practice before semifinal Game 1 of the World Baseball Classic Championship at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. (March 17, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

SAN FRANCISCO -- To say the Mets dumped Angel Pagan wouldn't be completely accurate. They did get Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez in return from the Giants.

But, yeah, it was pretty close to that.

And now Pagan couldn't be happier. If the World Series ring and the new four-year, $40-million contract weren't enough, then leading the next generation of Puerto Rican players will have to suffice.

Right now, they're headed to the title game of the World Baseball Classic, thanks to Sunday night's 3-1 win over Japan.

Pagan had two singles, but the big blast was provided by the White Sox's Alex Rios, whose two-run homer in the seventh inning quieted the mostly pro-Japan crowd of 33,683 at AT&T Park.

Japan, the winner of the previous two WBC tournaments, couldn't do much against Dodgers minor-leaguer Mario Santiago, who allowed two hits in 41/3 scoreless innings before leaving with tightness in his right forearm. Trailing 1-0, Japan had a chance to tie with two outs in the sixth inning when Pagan stumbled and misplayed Seiichi Uchikawa's sinking liner into a triple. But Xavier Cedeno whiffed Shinnosuke Abe and Rios padded the lead with his homer in the seventh.

Former Met Kaz Matsui pinch hit with two outs and one on in the ninth and flied out to Pagan to end it.

Pagan isn't the biggest star on this roster, not with Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina hanging around. But he realizes what's been at stake, and the importance of beating the United States to advance.

"We need this in Puerto Rico," Pagan said. "The quality of guys has been down a little bit and we want kids to see us as a light to follow. To leave a legacy for them to follow."

For Pagan, it's taken a little time to find that guiding light himself. He was supposed to be the heir to Beltran in Flushing but took a step backward in 2011, batting .262 in 123 games and seemingly annoying club management.

That led to a classic change-of-scenery trade with the Giants that turned out to be exactly what Pagan needed. After switching coasts, he batted .288 with 15 triples and 29 stolen bases for the Giants, who used his catalytic abilities to spark a rather ordinary-looking lineup.

And when the Giants won the World Series, that changed everything. Now Pagan is a fixture by the bay and enjoying the kind of popularity that comes with a championship.

Sometimes that's how it goes after a turbulent time in Queens. Carlos Delgado knows. Now Puerto Rico's hitting coach, Delgado can tell the difference in Pagan, who went 2-for-5 Sunday night to increase his WBC batting average to a team-best .367 (11-for-30).

"I think lately things are coming together for him," Delgado said. "He's always had a lot of tools -- he's an electric player, he's got power, he's a good outfielder. He can do a lot of things.

"But people don't mature at the same speed. Maybe it took a little longer for him. I'm really happy for him because I know he's put his time in and you won't find too many guys working harder."

Pagan caught the final out of Friday's win over Team USA, a victory that set off a World Series-caliber celebration at Marlins Park. Even after what happened last October, he refused to rate that any higher than what Puerto Rico had accomplished to that point. "We wanted to make a difference this year, to leave a positive example for our country," he said. "That's the message we want to leave. Hopefully, Puerto Rico is proud of us now, because we wear this jersey very proudly."

Pagan in a leadership role is not something the Mets necessarily would have predicted during his final trying season with them. He probably didn't either. But it's happening now, and the conversation about Pagan no longer is stuck on his potential. Apparently, he had to leave the Mets to finally arrive.

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