SAN FRANCISCO -- When Puerto Rico was on the verge of elimination earlier in the World Baseball Classic, outfielder Angel Pagan gathered his team for a pep talk.
Just like Hunter Pence?
"Not that intense,'' the Giants outfielder, said with a laugh. "I didn't have that look in my eye."
Still, the message got through. And now Pagan will be playing for another championship at AT&T Park.
Puerto Rico advanced to the WBC title game by ousting Japan, the two-time defending champions, with a 3-1 victory Sunday night. A rollicking, flag-waving crowd of 33,683 cheered every pitch.
"It was awesome,'' said Pagan, who had two singles to improve to .367 (11 for 30) in the WBC. "I had no idea there were so many Puerto Ricans."
Alex Rios delivered the big blow, a soaring two-run homer in the seventh inning to give Puerto Rico a 3-0 lead. The Chicago White Sox outfielder had been 3 for 24 in WBC with no extra-base hits and no RBI before connecting for a 394-foot blast off left-hander Atsushi Nohmi.
That meant there would be no san renpa -- Japanese for "three-peat." Team Japan won the two previous WBC tournaments, in 2006 and '09.
Instead, Puerto Rico advances to the 5 p.m. championship game Tuesday. It will face the winner of the game of Monday's semifinal between the Dominican Republic (6-0) and the Netherlands (4-3).
To Pagan, the vibe feels a little familiar. His Giants won the World Series with a formula of defense,
"When you're trying to accomplish something for your country, you have a big responsibility to put baseball where it belongs — in Puerto Rico,'' said Pagan, who snatched a flag from a giddy fan and wore it to his interview session. "The message is clear, but it doesn't end right here. We haven't won it yet."
With the ballpark at less than capacity, it lacked the deafening roar of a Giants' game. But the horn-blowing, drum pounding, song-singing crowd proved that the WBC could still generate plenty of buzz.
Puerto Rico's pitching, meanwhile, mostly silenced a strong Japanese lineup. Starter Mario Santiago (a former Kansas City Royals farmhand) delivered 41/3 scoreless innings before leaving with a right forearm strain and giving way to a string of relievers.
Hirokazu Ibata drove in Japan's lone run with an eighth-inning single against Randy Fontanez.
Right-hander Fernando Cabrera (who recently signed with the Angels) got the final two outs for the save.
Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie.