By Eric Edwards
February 4, 2003
The Dominican Republic continued to churn toward what now seems inevitable Tuesday night. Mendy Lopez cracked a 10th-inning single off Francisco Rodriguez that scored Izzy Alcantara for a 4-3 victory.
The Dominicans have now dodged two bullets as they have built a perfect 3-0 record at the six-game round-robin tournament between the champion teams from the Mexican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican and Dominican winter leagues.
On Sunday they gave a late Mexican charge an olé, winning 6-5. On Tuesday, they took advantage of Rodriguez, who found either the dirt or the middle of the plate during his short stint.
Brought on with Alcantara on second and two outs, K-Rod promptly unleashed a wild pitch that allowed the runner to advance to third, making his scoring the winning run on Lopez’ single a much shorter and easier journey.
“I can’t express how happy I was after getting that hit,” said Lopez, who pumped his first in celebration as he ran to first base. “This is my first Caribbean Series and I’m enjoying every moment.”
Now 3-0, the Dominicans lead Mexico (2-1) by a game in the standings and Venezuela by two (1-2). The Dominican Republic will send Claudio Vargas to the mound against Mexico today at 8 p.m. Mexico will respond with righthander Francisco Campos.
Alcantara began the decisive rally by drawing a one-out walk and moved to second on a fielder’s choice ground ball. That brought on Rodriguez and set the stage for Lopez’ heroics.
“We’re going after the sweep,” said Alcantara, who earlier tied the game with an opposite-field homer in the sixth inning. “We’ve had three difficult games and we’ve come through the other side. We’re on a roll.”
Venezuela put its leadoff man on base to start the home half of the 10th when Miguel Cabrera singled, but couldn’t get him into scoring position.
Sporting an infield of Rafael Furcal at third base, Miguel Tejada at shortstop, Luis Castillo at second and David Ortiz at first, the Dominican run machine struggled to get into gear against Venezuelan starter Juan Carlos Pulido–except for Tejada.
After going hitless in the first two games of the Series, Tejada delivered a home run and an RBI double Tuesday to supply the bulk of the Dominican offense.
After a solo home run by Alex Cabrera in the second inning got Venezuela on the board first, Tejada knotted the game with his run-scoring double in the third.
He got to Pulido again in the fifth inning, depositing his solo home run over the wall in left field. It was his seventh career Caribbean Series home run in seven appearances.
Venezuela recaptured the lead in their next turn at bat. Eduardo Rios led off with a single and Alex Delgado reached on an error by Castillo. The two runners moved up on a fielder’s choice and scored on a single by Luis Ordaz.
The Dominicans tied the game in the sixth on an opposite-field homer by Alcantara.
Nieves gets his revenge
Melvin Nieves not only suited up against his native Puerto Rico Tuesday, he had a hand in ending its chances of winning the Caribbean Series.
Nieves had two hits, scoring Mexico’s first run and driving in two more as Culiacan pounded Ponce 10-4 to send Puerto Rico to its third straight loss in the six-game round-robin tournament. It effectively ended Puerto Rico’s bid for its first title since the Series was last held at Quisqueya Stadium in 2000.
Mexico won its second straight game after getting nipped, 6-5, in its opener by their heavily favored Dominican hosts. Mexico gets a rematch with the undefeated Dominican Republic squad Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Nieves was released early in the winter season by Santurce and went unclaimed by the Puerto Rico League’s other five teams before ultimately signing on with Culiacan. That signing proved key Tuesday as he sparked Mexico’s two-run second inning rally with a two-out single and doubled home two runs in Culiacan’s four-run third.
“The truth is there was a little extra motivation for me to show I can still play,” said Nieves, who batted.186 with three home runs in 16 games with Culiacan after hitting .211 over nine games with Santurce. “Mexico gave me that opportunity when no one in Puerto Rico would.”
Another Puerto Rico League veteran, Kit Pellow, had three hits and drove in three runs for Culiacan.
That was enough for Orioles righthander Rodrigo Lopez, who wasn’t as dominant as last time he faced Puerto Rico–he pitched a three-hit shutout with the 2002 Series title on the line–but he didn’t have to be.
“Any pitcher who gets that many runs is going to pitch relaxed,” said Lopez, who worked six innings, allowing five hits and two runs and striking out four to put Mexico in position to take a run at just their fifth Series title since joining the Caribbean fray in 1970.
Two of those titles, however, have come in the last seven years–1996 in Santo Domingo, D.R., and 2002 in Caracas, Venez.
“At this point we’re going after just one game, not the title,” Mexico manager Paquin Estrada said.
The Mexican lineup had little trouble figuring out familiar foe Osvaldo Fernandez, who started for Puerto Rico. Fernandez pitched in Mexican League last summer and Puerto Rico manager Jose Cruz figured his familiarity with their hitters would be an advantage.
He was wrong.
After retiring the first five batters he faced, Nieves ripped a single up the middle and Mario Valdez followed with a bloop hit just out of the reach of shortstop Raul Nieves.
Adan Amezcua, the offensive hero and tournament MVP the last time Mexico won this competition, tripled home both runners for a 2-0 lead starting a trend that would last the rest of the game as 12 of Mexico’s 15 hits came with two outs.
Puerto Rico tied the game in its next at bat as Hiram Bocachica and Luis Lopez each singled in runs.
That lasted only until Ponce took the field in the bottom of the inning as another two-out rally turned the tide of the game.
Benji Gil’s single began a run of five straight hits that produced four more runs. The third, a single by Kit Pellow plated Gil with the tie-breaking run. Nieves then doubled home Derrick White and Pellow for a 5-2 lead. Nieves then scored on a single by Mario Valdez to make it 6-2.
The score remained that way until Gil led off the seventh with a home run. Pellow scored Culiacan’s eighth run, singling and scoring two batters later when Ponce first baseman Carlos Rivera couldn’t field a two-hopper by Valdez.
Mexico added one last two-out rally as Gil singled, White doubled and Pellow plated them both with a single for a 10-2 lead.
Raul Gonzalez dressed up the scoreboard a little in the ninth for Puerto Rico with his first hit in 11 at bats, a two-run home run to left field.
Puerto Rico will face Venezuela in the early game Wednesday.
• It’s been a while since Chris Enochs has taken to the mound, but he finally gets the call today in Puerto Rico’s return match against Venezuela in the Caribbean Series.
A mainstay in the Ponce rotation during the regular season and playoffs, a foot injury forced Enochs to miss his scheduled start in the championship series against Caguas.
He hasn’t faced live opposition in two weeks, but said Tuesday that his foot is 100 percent.
“I threw in the bullpen (Monday) and I feel fine,” Enoch said. “It wasn’t that serious to begin with and with the time I’ve had to rest, I’m back to normal.”
Cruz said he made the decision to start Enochs after watching his Monday workout.
“He threw well and I think his slider could be effective against their lineup,” Cruz said.
Venezuela is loaded with power in the middle of its lineup with White Sox star Magglio Ordonez, Japanese League star Alex Cabrera (54 home runs last season) and up-and-coming Marlins star Miguel Cabrera.
“They’ve got a good lineup,” Enochs said. “The key for me is to keep the ball down, to limit them to singles instead of extra base hits.”
Venezuela will respond with righthander Henry Cala. The game is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
• Defense was supposed to be Ponce’s Achilles Heel in the championship series in Puerto Rico. But it hit the ball so well that it didn’t really matter how many errors they made.
Here, it has.
On Tuesday Ponce committed three more errors, running its three-game total to nine. That wasn’t sitting well with manager Jose Cruz after the team’s third straight loss.
“You can’t do that against this level of competition,” Cruz said. “We’ve been our own worst enemy in these games. It helped set the wrong tone, and it’s something we’re going to have to fix if we’re going to get back in this thing.”
Third baseman Luis Lopez has three of those errors, two in the first game, a 7-6 loss to Venezuela, and another in the team’s 5-0 loss to the Dominican Republic Monday.
The condition of the field has been a factor in a number of the mistakes, but two of Lopez’ errors have come on throws.
• Montreal Expos general manager Omar Minaya is trolling for Caribbean jewels again at this six-game round-robin competition.
Having dug up Timo Perez while the assistant general manager with the Mets in 2000 and setup man Luis Ayala for the Expos last year, Minaya has developed an appreciation for just how fruitful keeping his eyes open here can be.
“The Caribbean Series has been good to me,” Minaya said. “I don’t come here looking for anything specific. I just sit in the stands and wait for a player to impress me.”
Minaya said he has been impressed so far with the play of veterans Henry Rodriguez and Jose Offerman, but since the two are lefthanded hitters, his interest is not as great as it would otherwise be as Montreal already has fives lefties and three switch-hitters among its core group of position players.
The Expos will again play 22 of their home games in San Juan this year. He said the team now takes the arrangement in stride.
“It would be a special circumstance for any other team, but it’s normal for the Expos,” said Minaya, whose team contended for the wild-card playoff spot before fading to a second straight 83-79 record last year.
• Ayala, one of Minaya’s past recruits and a potential closer for the Expos this year, said he was disappointed Monterrey, Mexico, didn’t beat out San Juan for the rental arrangement with the Expos.
The Mexico native said he thinks baseball will one day make its way to Monterrey.
“That would be great, to be pitching in my country in front of my people in a stadium that I know to perfection,” Ayala said. “It’s not that far off. The stadium meets all the requisites, it’s adaptable, with plenty of seats in a beautiful city with good hotels.”
Monterrey is one of the cities–along with San Juan and six other U.S. communities–trying to land the Expos on a permanent basis.
Ayala said he still prefers Puerto Rico to other U.S. venues.
“It’s a Latin environment which gives me additional motivation,” Ayala said. “In the U.S. the atmosphere is different.”
Ayala was the Expos most effective reliever last season going 10-3, 2.92 with five saves in 71 innings.
Dominican Republic (Licey) 3-0
Mexico (Culiacan) 2-1
Venezuela (Aragua) 1-2
Puerto Rico (Ponce) 0-3