MARACAY, Venezuela–In yesterday'™s meeting of last year'™s Caribbean Series champs, the Mazatlan Deer of Mexico and the Licey Tigers from the Dominican Republic, Dominican hitting and relief pitching proved the difference in the island country'™s 10-6 victory.
Especially after a 17-1 whipping at the hands of Venezuela the day before, Mexico got off to a surprisingly confident start.
The Mexicans put four runs on the board in the third inning, with Edgar Gonzalez'™s solo home run getting things going. Juan Cañizales later drove in Trinidad Hubbard and Oscar Robles with a single. Jesse Gutierrez'™s double, the fourth straight Mexico hit, scored Gutierrez for a solid 4-0 lead.
But the Dominicans roared back in the fifth, scoring six runs in the frame to take the lead for good. It started with Alexis Gomez doubling to score Ronnie Belliard from second and Timoniel Perez from first. Then Mets infielder Anderson Hernandez got in on the action, driving in Gomez with a single to right.
Then it was Miguel Tejada'™s turn. With Sandy Martinez and Hernandez on base, Tejada launched a three-run shot to right-center off Francisco Campos for a 6-4 lead.
But Mexico didn'™t exactly throw in the towel after Tejada'™s homer'"even after the Dominicans scored two more in the sixth.
In Mazatlan'™s eighth, Mario Valenzuela and Edgar Gonzalez hit back-to-back solo home runs to put the Mexicans within two. When Heber Gomez reached base, something seemed to be brewing.
In the end, Mexico ran out of steam while the Dominicans only got stronger as the game went on. The islanders loaded the bases in their eighth, with Hernandez singling to bring in Melky Cabrera, who pinch ran for Timoniel Perez, and Erick Aybar'™s sacrifice fly driving in Alexis Gomez, who had his hands in most everything yesterday. Gomez had four hits in all, including a two-run double in the fifth ahead of Tejada'™s blast.
"I'™m grateful for getting invited," Gomez said. "I came to represent my country and give all I'™ve got."
Dominican manager Rafael Landestoy seemed satisfied with his team'™s performance. "Our morale is way up, we made a big effort," said Landestoy.
The difference against Mexico, said Landestoy, was the relief pitching drenching Mexico'™s offensive fire, while the team'™s own offense responded positively.
Landestoy also played down today'™s much-anticipated matchup with Venezuela.
"It'™s just another game in the Series," he said. "We don'™t prepare differently. We just play hard."
• In the night game, Venezuela geared up for the biggest game of the series thus far, easily handling Puerto Rico, 6-1.
With two outs in the second inning, Venezuela scored all six of its runs after scoring 14 of last night'™s 17 runs with two outs. Athletics infielder Marco Scutaro led the way for Venezuela with a grand slam off starter Jim Magrane.
Venezuelan starter Orlando Trías pitched five strong innings, giving up only one run. The relief did the rest, shutting out Puerto Rico on their way to victory. Puerto Rico and Mexico will both be trying to save some dignity today as each vies to win their first series game, hoping to stay close to Dominican Republic and Venezuela.