By Carlos Torres
HERMOSILLO, Mexico—Puerto Rico's Criollos de Caguas ended a three-game losing streak with an unlikely upset Monday that jumbled the Caribbean Series standings.
Royals farmhand Ray Navarro was the hero of the day for Caguas, with four RBIs from the eighth inning onward, leading to a 6-4, 10th-inning victory over previously unbeaten Escogido of the Dominican Republic in the beginning of the second round of the 2013 Caribbean Series. The Dominican (3-1) remains a win away from clinching a spot in the championship game, likely against either Mexico or Venezuela (both 2-2).
Navarro, 23, was the soul of the Puerto Rico (1-3) offensive, collecting an eighth-inning two-run single to tie the game and a two-run homer in the 10th to give Caguas the final lead.
With the Dominican leading 4-2 in the eighth, an error by shortstop Hanley Ramirez (Dodgers) on a ground ball hit by minor league veteran Jesus Feliciano opened the door for Caguas to tie the game. With two outs and one runner on base, Ramirez couldn't field the grounder, putting runners at second and third. Navarro made the error costly as he singled on a line drive to the center, scoring Feliciano and Luis Mateo (Cardinals).
Then in the 10th, Navarro—who finished last season with Triple-A Omaha—hit the game winner to right-center field, a homer off Jailen Peguero that scored Feliciano, who had singled. Navarro hit just four home runs last season and just 22 in six professional seasons.
Ex-big leaguer Saul Rivera came on in the ninth for Puerto Rico and struck out Ricardo Nanita and Ramirez, then retired Miguel Tejada on a groundout to end the game.
Both starting pitchers were Americans who went at least five innings. Escogido starter Dustin Richardson, out of Texas Tech and most recently in the Braves system, walked in two runs in the second innings and walked five in the game without registering a strikeout, but survived to pitch into the sixth.
Escogido's Jordany Valdespin (Mets) tied the game on the bottom of the fifth with his first home run of the Caribbean Series, a two-run shot off Michael Nix, an Auburn alum who most recently pitched for the Sugarland Skeeters. Valdespin's homer scored Abraham Almonte (Yankees).
The DR took a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth when, with the bases loaded, former major leaguer Julio Lugo hit a long sacrifice fly to center field to score Nanita (Blue Jays). Tejada (Royals), who was on second base, was caught on the way to third for the double play.
Albert Rosario (Red Sox) put the fourth run for the DR on the slate in the bottom of the seventh with a solo homer, a long fly ball over the left field fence.
Nix worked five innings, gave up four hits and earned two runs, with four strikeouts and no walks. José De la Torre (Red Sox), Cole McCurry (Braves) each gave up a run, but four other pitchers totsed 3.2 scoreless innings for Puerto Rico, with Sergio Espinosa, who pitched the 2012 season with Newark of the independent Canadian-American Association, earning the win. He retired two batters in the bottom of the ninth.
Mexico 2, Venezuela 0
Nicknamed "Fello" or "Ugly Kid," big league veteran Alfredo Amezaga was the hometown hero for host Mexico, backing Rolando Valdez's seven scoreless innings against Venezuela to keep Mexico alive in the Caribbean Series.
Amezaga, this year's Mexican Pacific League batting champion, only hit five home runs during the regular season with Obregon while hitting .344. On this day, he had good timing and gave Mexico (2-2) all the runs it would need as just the second batter of the game.
Venezuela's Magallanes started righthander Austin Bibens-Dirkx (Blue Jays), and former Phillies farmhand Chris Roberson reached on an error to open the bottom of the first. “Fello” then sent a fly ball over the right-field fence to give Obregon the advantage.
“It is good for the team, after two heartbreaking losses, the spirit in the clubhouse wasn't so well," Amezaga said. "Now we won this game; we have a chance to make it to the final.
"I didn't face Bibens before, I saw a good pitch and I took it."
Valdez, who pitched for Diablos Rojos del Mexico last summer, started for Obregón, and the former Padres farmhand had magnificent command. He faced 26 batters, threw 94 pitches, walked none and struck out seven.
Héctor Navarro and former major leaguer Dennis Reyes followed Valdez in the eighth, and Oscar Villarreal (Red Sox) threw the ninth with two strikeouts for the save.
“I failed against Venezuela on the game before,” said Villarreal, who faced Venezuela on the second game of the Series and blew a two- run advantage. “So I have the chance to do it better, so we're still on the fight for the (Series).”
Bibens-Dirkx took the loss despite pitching seven strong innings; the two-run Amezaga homer was the only damage in 84 pitches. He struck out five and gave one walk.
Mexico has a key game Tuesday against the Dominican Republic at 7:30 p.m. Marco Carrillo, a former Cubs farmhand who pitches for Sultanes de Monterrey last summer in Mexican League, will start. Former Tigers righty Alfredo Figaro is expected to start for Escogido. Venezuela face Puerto Rico in the early game at 4 p.m.