VALENCIA, Venezuela–The first three games of this series featured a lot of offense, but Monday it was all about pitching and clutch hitting.
With Dominican Republic and Venezuela both winning their respective games, tonight’™s matchup will decide the series.
After overcoming Mexico’™s hustle last night–4-3 in 10 innings–Venezuela had to contend with a Puerto Rico team that had nothing to lose. Like scrappy Mexico, Puerto Rico put up a good fight, staying close through six innings against Dominican Republic on Sunday afternoon.
Last night, it was more of the same for Puerto Rico. They stayed close, but again fell apart in key situations.
Puerto Rico got off to a solid start, however, with Royals infielder Ruben Gotay homering to right field off Venezuelan starter Albert Vargas.
Venezuela evened the score when Puerto Rico starter William Collazo committed an error, allowing Javier Herrera to come in from second. With the bases loaded in the sixth, it looked like time for Venezuela to blast ahead. But along with pitching, Monday’™s theme was clutch hitting, practical and effective.
Henry Blanco came up in the sixth against Giancarlo Alvarado, who replaced Collazo, sending a sacrifice fly ball to right that drove in slugger Alex Cabrera, who had singled.
Puerto Rico was only down 2-1 after six innings, which only meant that Venezuela had more work to do. They met the challenge, adding an insurance run in the seventh and another in the eighth.
Rafael Alvarez blasted a two-run shot to right, giving Venezuela some breathing room at 4-1. After Alex Gonzalez led off the Venezuelan eighth with a double to right, Blanco slapped a single to center to extend the lead to 5-1.
Besides lackluster bats, Puerto Rico made key defensive mistakes that cost them dearly. The islanders committed four errors, with Collazo’™s third inning mistake allowing the tying run to score with two outs.
Home field advantage aside, Venezuela is heavily favored in tonight’™s decisive game against Dominican Republic. Going into Monday, Venezuela led the series in hits, runs scored, and most every other batting category. The same was largely true of pitching statistics.
After a poor start in the local winter league, Venezuela’™s Caracas Lions have been playing inspired baseball. They have won nine straight games, and if they can make it ten straight, they will crown themselves Caribbean Series champs for the first time since 1982.
Venezuelan manager Carlos Subero, 33, was the picture of tranquility Monday as cameras and microphones raced around the infield at Estadio Jose Bernardo Perez in Valencia. Holding his young son, Subero exuded a humble confidence after what has been an uphill battle of a season for his Lions.
“We’™ve faced adversities all year,” Subero said. “We were 6-6 in our round robin [playoff tournament], forced to win four straight to advance to the championship where we faced the [Aragua] Tigers who had won the last two championships. It’™s all about inspiration. This team has a tremendous character. We’™re ready for the battle.”
With Geremi Gonzalez, who gave up one run in seven innings against Mexico, going to the mound tonight, Venezuelan fans have reason to smile. But the Dominicans have plenty of experience and talent of their own, which should give those same fans plenty to worry about.
Dominican Republic holds off Mexico
After giving Venezuela a scare on Sunday night, Mexico was back to its old tricks against Dominican Republic yesterday. But while their scrappy play has kept them within striking distance, Mexico has lacked the ability to strike at the right time.
Mexico got on the board first in the fifth inning when Mario Valenzuela scored on a wild pitch with two outs after stealing third on a Trinidad Hubbard strikeout.
Mexico starter Walter Silva held Dominican Republic scoreless until the sixth. That’™s when Erick Aybar walked, stole second, and came home on a Napoleon Calzado double to tie it at 1-1. Team hero Alexis Gomez put the Dominicans up to stay with a double that scored Calzado.
Facing Ignacio Flores, Timoniel Perez doubled in Ronnie Belliard in the eighth for the game’™s final marker of 3-1.
Silva allowed two runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings of work. The winner, Daniel Cabrera, gave up only two hits and one unearned run in five innings.
Mexico will face off against Puerto Rico in today’™s other game, but all eyes will be on the Venzuela-Dominican Republic matchup that will decide the championship.