By Eric Edwards
October 31, 2003
PANAMA CITY, Panama–Todd Betts turned amateur night into a Canadian celebration.
After working two scoreless innings, Carlos Perez, one of two amateur pitchers on Puerto Rico’s team, couldn’t sneak a first-pitch fastball past Betts, who crushed the offering over the right-field wall at a waterlogged Estadio Nacional as Canada rallied for three runs in the 11th inning to win 8-5.
“I knew I hit it well, but I didn’t know it was out until I saw it disappear,” said Betts, a former Mariners and Red Sox farmhand who played in Japan in 2003. “In that situation I was looking for a home run, I was just looking to drive the ball.”
Canada thus breaks from the gate 1-0 at the Americas Olympic qualifier and in good position to finish in the top two in its five-team group. Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt said location is everything heading into the crossover single-elimination second phase of the tournament.
“We’re looking to position ourselves so we can get one of the two spots at stake,” said Whitt. “The higher we finish in our group the better our chances of reaching that goal.”
With the United States and Panama lurking in the other draw, there will likely be a big difference between playing the second-place team and the third-place team from that group.
Puerto Rico falls into a 0-1 hole, with Mexico up next today as the four-game elimination phase of the tournament continues. Jonathan Albaladejo will take the mound for Puerto Rico. Mexico will respond with either Octavio Alvarez or Rigo Beltran.
Perez had sailed through his first two innings of relief as Puerto Rico followed righthander Omar Olivares with a slew of lefties against a Canadian lineup full of lefthanded hitters. The approach did little good as the Canadians hit five home runs on the night, including two by slugging first baseman Justin Morneau (Twins). Morneau just missed making it six, leading off the 11th inning with a drive that Puerto Rico right fielder Alexis Rios (Blue Jays) tracked down at the warning track.
Perez wasn’t so fortunate against Betts, whose low line drive just cleared the right field fence.
“We have a very good offensive team,” said Whitt. “Any of our guys are capable of hitting the ball out to any part of the park.”
Shortstop Kevin Nicholson added a two-out, run-scoring double, and Perez balked home the Canadians eighth run before play was halted by rain for the second time. The first delay lasted 2 hours 35 minutes, coming four outs into the game after Puerto Rico’s leadoff man Luis Figueroa was thrown out at third trying to stretch a double into a triple. The second came four out from the end of the game and lasted 1 hour 10 minutes, forcing the postponement of Panama’s game against Brazil. That game will be played Monday on the 100th anniversary of Panama’s independence from Colombia.
Puerto Rico drew first blood Friday, scoring in the opening inning when Jose “Chepito” Munoz singled, took second on a wild pitch and scored on a double over the head of Canadian center fielder Adam Stern (Braves). Canada tied the game in the fourth inning on a solo home run by Morneau, but Puerto Rico quickly recaptured the momentum in its next at-bat.
Omar Garcia opened the inning with a double and scored on an RBI single by Hiram Bocachica (Tigers). Bocachica then took third on a single by Angel Pagan and scored when Canadian right fielder Jeremy Ware (Expos) misplayed the ball.
The Canadians, however, again got to Olivares in the fifth inning as Ware led off with a single, and Jeff Guiel (Angels) followed with a two-run home run down the line in right field to knot the game at 3-3. The first of three Puerto Rican lefthanders to come on from the bullpen, Joe Rodriguez, fared no better as Pete Laforest (Devil Rays) and Morneau hit back-to-back homers for a 5-3 Canada lead.
“They are a low-balling hitting team, and we got too many balls down in the strike zone,” said Puerto Rico manager Sandy Alomar Sr. “They made us pay for it.”
Puerto Rico rallied to tie the game in their next at bat as Rios led off the sixth with a solo home run to centerfield, and Bocachica singled home Garcia, who had led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Hector Ortiz.
“It was a good game between two good teams,” said Whitt. “We took the lead, then they took the lead. It was back and forth until the end.”