Major League Baseball slugger Carlos Beltran sparked a three-run first inning that powered Group C host Puerto Rico to a 3-0 victory over Spain on Friday in the World Baseball Classic.
Beltran, an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, smacked a run-scoring line drive single to right field, took third on a run-scoring sacrifice fly from Mike Aviles and scored when Carlos Rivera walked with the bases loaded.
The Spaniards stayed within reach as Puerto Rico left the bases loaded in the first two innings. A Spanish side featuring mostly minor-league talent threatened in the seventh but an inning-ending double play thwarted the bid.
On Saturday, Puerto Rico will play Venezuela, which dropped its Group C opener 9-3 on Friday to the Dominican Republic, which meets Spain on Saturday in the round-robin fight for two berths in next week's second round at Miami.
The other two spots in Miami will go to teams from Group D in Phoenix and European champion Italy took a major step toward advancing with a 14-4 rout of Canada on Friday in a game halted after eight innings by the 10-run mercy rule.
Chris Colabello smacked a three-run home run in a 4-for-5 batting effort, driving in three runs and scoring three times himself.
Mike Costanzo hit a two-run double and Mario Chiarini singled in a run to spark a five-run eighth inning for the Italians, who opened Group D first-round play with a ninth-inning comeback Thursday for a 6-5 victory over Mexico.
Group D host United States was set to make its Classic debut later Friday against the Mexicans, who will face Canada on Saturday while the American squad of Major League Baseball stars meet Italy.
Two-time defending champion Japan, Taiwan, Cuba and the Netherlands are in a second-round group at Tokyo to decide two semi-final spots. The semi-finals and finals will be staged March 17-19 at San Francisco.