By Eric Edwards
February 2, 2003
Puerto Rico first mishandled the ball, then the lead as Venezuela rallied behind Robert Pérez for a 7-6 victory in the opening game of the Caribbean Series Sunday.
Pérez’s bases-loaded single with one out in the bottom of the 10th plated Luis Ordaz and left Puerto Rico’s cheesecloth defense standing on the field to watch another one slip through their hands.
“We didn’t deserve to win. We gave them to many opportunities to get take it from us,” said Puerto Rico centerfielder Hiram Bocachica.
Pérez had earlier hit a two-run home run off of Puerto Rico starter Omar Olivares in the sixth inning to give his team a 5-3 edge, and scored the the run that tied the game at 6-6 in the home half of the ninth.
Pinch-hitter Luis Rodríguez forced extra innings, delivering a run-scoring single with one out over the outstretched glove of Puerto Rico shortstop Raúl Nieves to score Pérez.
The Puerto Ricans seemed intent on giving the first game of the six-game round-robin tournament away. After scoring the game’s first two runs, they committed two errors in the fourth inning that led to three unearned runs.
Another error on Pérez’s grounder leading off the ninth turned into the tally that salvaged the game for the Venezuelans.
Puerto Rico third baseman Luis López was the main culprit, throwing away what should have been an inning-ending double play ball in the fourth, and misplaying Pérez’s ground ball in the ninth.
“We made too many errors and they cost us the game,” said Puerto Rico manager José Cruz. “We scored the runs we needed to win and handed the lead over to the bullpen, but unfortunately they couldn’t get it done.” Before his second error, it appeared López had made amends, putting Puerto Rico ahead 6-5 and within three outs of victory with a solo shot off of Venezuelan reliever Francisco Butto leading off the ninth.
But after Pérez reached base in the home half of the ninth, Eduardo Ríos bunted him over to second, setting the stage for Rodriguez, who hit the offering from Puerto Rico closer Justin Lehr just hard enough to get past Nieves.
The Venezuelans wasted no time loading the bases against Lehr in the their next at bat, as Ordaz lead off the inning with a single and took third when Alex Cabrera doubled down the left field line two batters later. Cruz then intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera to load the bases and set up the potential rally-killing double play.
Pérez, however, didn’t cooperate, lining a breaking ball from Lehr off the left field wall at Quisqueya Stadium, which had come alive in anticipation of the late game between the Dominican hosts and Mexico.
Venezuela did not send a team to last year’s tournament in Carolina, Puerto Rico because of the political unrest, and has not won this competition since 1989.
“I knew he wasn’t going to give me anything good to hit, so I was looking for something off-speed,” said Pérez. “I was proud of the way we were able to fight back. In a short series like this, winning the first game is so important.” Olivares and Venezuelan starter Dan Murray were sharp in the early going.
Murray escaped second inning trouble to take a shutout into the fourth inning. Olivares hadn’t allowed a hit through three innings.
That quickly changed when Raúl Nieves doubled leading off the fourth and scored when Murray threw Hiram Bocachica’s sacrifice bunt attempt into left field. Bocachica took second on the play, and third on a sacrifice bunt by Carlos Baerga, scoring on a fielder’s choice ground ball by Luis López.
Olivares fortunes changed when Juan Rivera led off the fourth with a single.
After Ordaz flied out, Ordoñez hit a one-hopper that López fielded cleanly. His throw, however, sailed high and wide of Carlos Baerga at second base and into right field. Juan Rivera scored all the way from first base on the error, and Ordoñez reached third. Alex Cabrera then singled home Ordoñez before Puerto Rico left-fielder Raúl González let a single by Miguel Cabrera skip under his glove and roll to the wall, allowing Alex Cabrera score.
Puerto Rico pulled even in the sixth inning when Carlos Rivera led off with a single, took second on a sacrifice bunt by José Molina and scored on a single by Nieves.
Pérez then made it 5-3 with a blast similar to his game-winning drive. This one, however, just cleared the fence in left field, scoring Miguel Cabrera ahead of him.
Puerto Rico tied the game in the eighth inning on a two-out rally against Francisco Rodríguez, a.k.a., K-Rod, who came on after a single by Carlos Rivera. Molina greeted him with a single and Nieves plated his second run of the game with a hit to left field. Molina took third on the throw home and scored on a wild pitch by Rodríguez.
Dominican Republic 6, Mexico 5
So loaded are the Dominican champion Licey Tigers that they could afford the luxury of bringing Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal off the bench when their opening game against Mexico got tight Sunday.
Brought on to pinch-hit after Mexico had drawn even at 5-5 in the seventh inning, Furcal manufactured the winning run in a 6-5 victory for the Dominicans in their opening game of the Caribbean Series.
Furcal's bat never touched the ball but his feet quickly made it around the bases as he drew a walk broke quickly for second on a slow roller by Ronnie Belliard and headed for third on the throw to first base. Mexican first baseman Mario Valdez tried to cut him down at third, but skipped his throw wide of third base, allowing Furcal to score the decisive run.
The Dominicans thus open the six-game round-robin they are hosting this year with a victory to head into their match-up today with arch-rival Puerto Rico with momentum. Puerto Rico lost its opener earlier Sunday, 7-6 to the Venezuelan League champion Aragua Tigers.
The Dominicans got the usual scare from a Mexican team that allows plays them tough in this annual competition that features the championship teams from the Puerto Rican, Dominican, Venezuelan and Mexican winter leagues reinforced by up to 12 top players from each league's other teams.
Mexican starter Oliver Perez was sharp over the first three innings, not allowing a hit to a lineup that included former American League MVP Miguel Tejada and Boston Red Sox first baseman David Ortiz.
The second time through the order, however, met with drastically different results for Perez, who surrendered five fourth-inning runs.
Nursing a 1-0 lead after Jose Macias tripled and score on a single by Benji Gil in the first inning, Perez was put in immediate danger when Luis Castillo led off the fourth with a single and moved to second base when Timo Perez reached on a Gil error. After Tejada struck out, Ortiz lined a double that scored Castillo and moved Perez to third. Israel Alcantara was then intentionally walked, a strategy that backfired when Oliver Perez walked Henry Rodriguez to force in the go-ahead run and Jose Offerman followed with a base-clearing double into the left field gap.
Mexico got a run back in the fifth on a titanic home run by Luis Garcia off of Dominican starter Jose Jimenez then pulled even when the Dominicans turned to their bullpen in the seventh.
Derrick White started he rally with a single against Guillermo Mota (Dodgers) and took third when Abraham misplayed the ball in centerfield. He scored on a single by Valdez. Mota was replaced by Joe Horgan after retiring the next batter, but pinch-hitter Miguel Ojeda greeted him with a double and Darryl Sherman brought the Mexicans to within a run with an RBI single. Jose Macias then knotted the scored with a fielder's choice ground ball to Castillo at second base.
The Dominicans then called on right-hander Felix Rodriguez (Giants) who ended the rally and plugged the Mexican offense the rest of the way.
"You have to give the Mexican batter s a lot of credit for coming back from four runs down, said Dominican manager Manny Acta, who doubles as the Montreal Expos third base coach.
Said Tejada of his team's performance: "A lot of people [in the Dominican] will look at this as an ugly win. But Mexico put up a tough fight and we were still able to prevail."
• Dominican outfielder Timo Perez slightly strained his right calf muscle in his team’s 6-5 victory over Mexico Sunday night and will only see action off the bench. Abraham Nunez will replace Perez in the outfield. “It’s nothing serious, but with spring camp just around the corner we don’t want to take any unnecessary risks,” Licey manager Manny Acta said.
• Even his new six-year, $72 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles can’t buy whatMiguel Tejada gets by playing in his native Dominican Republic. Sold out Quisqueya Stadium saved its largest applause Sunday night for the former American League MVP, who makes more money playing one game in the majors than he does over an entire season playing for Aguilas in the Dominican. “This is the reason I play in my home country every year,” said Tejada, pointing to his adoring fans. “I’m just so grateful for the way people treat me here.”
• Dominican George Bell, Puerto Ricans Carmelo Martinez and Luis Rodriguez Olmo, and Cuban Domingo Gonzalez were inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in a special ceremony Sunday prior to the start of the six-day tournament. Bell played in three Caribbean Series, as did Martinez, who is second in all-time Series home runs with 10. Martinez was the Series MVP in 1987 in Hermosillo, Mexico, and was the first baseman on Puerto Rico’s 1995 Dream Team that featured Juan Gonzalez,Roberto Alomar, Carlos Delgado, Bernie Williams, Javier Lopez, Edgar Martinez,Carlos Baerga and Ruben Sierra. Rodriguez Olmo played in three Caribbean Series in 1951, ’52 and ’55 with Santurce, sharing space in the outfield with both Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.
Dominican Republic 1-0
Puerto Rico 0-1