By Eric Edwards
February 3, 2003
Miguel Cabrera is still learning to play the outfield. On Monday he got a lesson in humility, letting a sinking liner by Jose Macias get under his glove in left field. The ball rolled to the wall and the decisive runs rumbled across the plate in the seventh inning as Mexico edged Venezuela, 4-3, on the second day of play at the Caribbean Series.
Macias also drove in his team’s first run with a solo home run in the third inning, giving Mexican starter Elmer Dessens and Mexico’s bend-without-breaking bullpen just enough runs to work with. Dessens allowed six hits–all singles–and a run over seven innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out four.
Mexico did everything it could on the basepaths to give Venezuela a chance to steal this one. One runner was picked off second base with runners at first and second and no outs, and another was thrown out from second base on a double off the wall in the seventh. In the end, Mexico’s bullpen proved good enough to secure the team’s first victory in the six-game round-robin tournament.
Mexico nearly downed the powerful Dominican Republic on Sunday night, but lost 6-5 when first baseman Mario Valdez threw wildly to third base trying to cut down Rafael Furcal.
“We could have won that first one, but we accepted that defeat and moved on,” Mexico manager Paquito Estrada said. “In a short series like this one, that’s the only attitude you can afford to take.”
Dessens didn’t allow a run over the first six innings and left after seven with Mexico nursing a 2-1 lead.
The Mexicans added to that lead in the home half of the seventh, rattling off four straight hits against Venezuela starter Mike Romano. It started innocently, with Adan Amezcua getting picked off second base by Venezuelan catcher Alex Delgado after Amezcua strayed too far from the bag on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Darryl Sherman.
Sherman followed up by lining a single to left field, and Macias followed with another liner to the left of the 20-year-old Cabrera. A converted third baseman, Cabrera charged the ball but failed to get his glove low enough and it bounded by him untouched to the wall for a double and a 4-1 Mexico lead.
“I’m playing really tight both in the field and at the plate right now,” said Cabrera, who was 1-for-9 in the first two games of the Series.
Macias should have added another run when the next batter, Luis Garcia, hit a towering drive off the wall. Thinking the drive would be caught, Macias returned to second base to tag up, and was thrown out at the plate on the relay throw from Venezuelan second baseman Luis Ordaz.
Venezuela tried to rally in the eighth inning against the Mexico bullpen. Mark Kroon surrendered a home run to Magglio Ordonez leading off the inning, and Alex Cabrera followed with a first-pitch single to center field that brought Mike Garcia on in relief. He struck out Miguel Cabrera and Robert Perez before Eduardo Rios singled to center field. Hoping to save closer Luis Ayala for the ninth inning, Estrada felt compelled to bring in the Montreal Expos righthander to get the last out of the eighth as well. Pinch-hitter Luis Lasay topped a sinker through the right side of the infield for a run-scoring single, but Ayala got Luis Rodriguez to fly out to left field to preserve the one-run lead.
Ayala had only a minor bump in the ninth, walking Ordonez with two outs before striking out Alex Cabrera to end the game.
“I have a lot of confidence in my bullpen,” Estrada said. “I don’t hesitate to turn to them when we have a lead late in the game. They have experience in these pressure situations.”
Mexico added its second run in the fourth on an RBI single by Amezcua, the MVP of the 2002 Series that the Mexicans won in Caracas, Venezuela.
Romano allowed eight hits and four runs over 6 1/3 innings to get the loss. Dessens earned the win.
Venezuela, searching for its first Series title since 1989, will face the host Dominican Republic in the 8 p.m. game Tuesday. Mexico will send Orioles righthander Rodrigo Lopez to the mound against Puerto Rico in the early game.
Dominican Republic 5, Puerto Rico 0
This was supposed to be Puerto Rico’s chance for revenge after the Dominican Republic surprised the host team last year.
That notion, however, proved all wet.
Dominican starter José Jiménez shut down Puerto Rico on three hits over six innings, and a powerful Licey lineup bounced around three Puerto Rican pitchers, building a 5-0 lead before rain forced the a premature ending.
The Dominicans have now broken from the gate with two wins in their quest for a sixth Caribbean Series title in eight years and their first on Dominican soil since 1988.
Puerto Rico’s offense was showing no signs of life against Jiménez. The righthander had allowed just three hits, walking two while striking out six.
Puerto Rico did manage two two-out doubles against Jiménez, one by Luis López in the first inning and the other by Raúl Casanova in the fourth. But Jiménez eluded trouble each time, getting Val Pascucci to ground out to shortstop to end the first and striking out Carlos Rivera to close the fourth.
By then the Dominicans had already left tread marks on Puerto Rico starter Dicky Gonzalez, who was making his first start in five weeks.
Manager Jose Cruz had named Gonzalez his starter despite the extended downtime in part because Gonzalez was so anxious to avenge Puerto Rico’s loss to their arch-rivals last year. Puerto Rico had run unbeaten through the first five games of last year’s tournament in Carolina, P.R., but Gonzalez was defeated with an opportunity to close out the Dominicans in the final scheduled game. The Puerto Ricans lost the title the following day in a tiebreaker.
Gonzalez had made partial amends during the first-ever all-star game between the two leagues on Dec. 14, tossing three perfect innings in Puerto Rico’s 14-7 victory.
Back then, Gonzalez was at his sharpest, en route to compiling a regular season record of 3-0,1.33 with 64 strikeouts over 61 innings. Two weeks later he was knocked unconscious by a pre-game batting practice line drive and hadn’t faced game action since.
The rust showed Monday as the Dominicans pounced on him from the start.
Luis Castillo set the tone, leading off the game with a single and coming around to score when the next batter, Rafael Furcal, launched a triple over the head of Hiram Bocachica in center field. The Dominicans added two more runs in the third as Luis López, whose two errors were so costly in Puerto Rico’s 7-6 loss to Venezuela on Sunday, misfired to first base on a ground ball by Israel Alcantara opening the inning. Alcantara took second and moved to third on a fly out to center field by Abraham Nuñez.
After Brandon Marsters drew a walk, Castillo plated the Dominicans second run with a single to center. González then walked Furcal to load the bases and hit Miguel Tejada with a pitch to force in the third run.
González escaped further damage by striking out David Ortiz and getting José Offerman to hit into an inning-ending fielder’s choice, but by then he had reached his pitch limit and was done for the night.
His replacement, lefthander Bryan Ward, had similar control problems, hitting Tejada and Ortiz on consecutive pitches to load the bases in the sixth. Offerman then delivered a single to center field that scored Furcal and Tejada.
The Dominicans appeared bent on scoring more in the seventh as Nuñez opened with a single against the island’s third pitcher, righthander Giancarlo Alvarado, but the rains came with Marsters at the plate, turning an already long game into an interminable one.
After waiting 90 minutes, the remainder of the contest was called off and the Dominicans were awarded the victory.
The loss drops Puerto Rico to 0-2 in the six-game round-robin tournament and into a desperate position heading into today’s 4 p.m. match-up against Mexico.
The Mexicans will start Baltimore Orioles righthander Rodrigo López, who shut out Puerto Rico two years ago in Caracas, Venezuela, to clinch the title for Mexico. Puerto Rico will respond with Cuban Osvaldo Fernandez.
Dominican Republic (Licey) 2-0
Venezuela (Aragua) 1-1
Mexico (Culiacan) 1-1
Puerto Rico (Ponce) 0-2