By Eric Edwards
February 7, 2003
With all the big names in the Dominican Republic's lineup, it was the No. 9 hitter, a career minor leaguer imported from the United States, who made himself at home in the clutch Friday night.
After the two hitters ahead of him had failed to convert on a first-and-third, no-out rally in the sixth inning, Brandon Marsters delivered. He singled through the box to score Jose Offerman with the winning run as the Dominicans finished off their sixth Caribbean Series title in the last eight years with a 4-3 victory over Puerto Rico.
Earlier in the day, Mexico beat Venezuela 6-5 to set to put itself in position to play a tie-breaking game Saturday if the Dominicans had failed to win the nightcap.
Marsters and Offerman, who reached base in four of his five trips to the plate and scored three of the four Dominican runs, made sure the Series didn't go to overtime.
Offerman led off the decisive sixth inning by drawing a walk and taking third on a hit-and-run single by Izzy Alcantara. Puerto Rico's starting pitcher Omar Olivares nearly escaped, striking out Mendy Lopez and getting Abraham Nunez to pop out to shallow centerfield before Marsters poked a first-pitch sinker back up the middle to plate the game-winner.
Relievers Guillermo Mota and Francis Beltran came on to protect the lead for Dominican starter Rafael Soriano, who was touched for two early home runs, but stymied Puerto Rico over his final three innings of work.
Puerto Rico put runners on first and second with one out against Beltran in the ninth, but the hard-throwing righthander struck out Raul Gonzalez and Val Pascucci to end the game and start the Dominican Republic celebration.
“I don't have the words to describe how overwhelmed I am by this,” Dominican manager Manny Acta said. “This is the biggest thing that has happened to me in my career.”
While the Dominican Republic has dominated this round-robin tournament between the champion clubs from each of the four Latin winter leagues–winning 10 of the last 17 competitions–its performance at home this year was far from awe-inspiring. Twice the Dominicans needed extra innings to pull out victories, and on two other occasions they prevailed by just one run.
But the bottom line was certainly good enough for the frenzied, flag-waving throng who filled Quisqueya Stadium Friday night. The Dominicans finished with a 5-1 record. Mexico was 4-2, Venezuela 3-3 and Puerto Rico 0-6.
Only two of the 12 Series games were decided by more than two runs. Eight were decided by one run, and four went into extra innings.
“To be here, to win here and to celebrate here is something you can't put a price on. I would pay to live this again,” said Dominican shortstop Miguel Tejada, whose team hadn't won the Series at home since 1988. “I'm grateful to the Orioles for understanding how important this was to me and letting me play.”
Puerto Rico finished winless–losing four times by one run–but put up a game fight against their arch-rivals Friday.
As they did in each of their one-run losses, the Puerto Ricans took the lead early but more doses of shoddy defense and unproductive at bats in the clutch did them in.
Puerto Rico scored in the first inning when Carlos Baerga tripled and scored on an error by Tejada and added a solo home run by Pascucci in the second and another by Luis Lopez in the fourth to jump out to a 3-1 lead.
By then the Dominicans were starting to figure Olivares out.
Having already walked and scored on a single by Lopez to get the Dominican Republic on the board in the third inning, Offerman doubled and scored on a hit by Alcantara in the fourth to close the gap to 3-2.
Marsters began the fifth with the first of three straight singles against Olivares and scored on an errant throw to third base by Puerto Rico right fielder Juan Lebron to tie the game.
Soriano allowed three runs over seven innings for the win. Olivares gave up 10 hits and four runs over six innings and took the loss.
Mexico 6, Venezuela 5
Rock hard and pock-marked, the playing surface at Quisqueya Stadium also seemed to be cursed each time Mexico played its hosts from the Dominican Republic. Otherwise the Mexicans were pretty content with the way the ball bounced at the Caribbean Series.
Mexican champion Culiacan edged Venezuela 6-5 Friday when a perfect one-hop throw from Miguel Cabrera in right field skipped off the leg of Miguel Ojeda as he slid into third base, bounding far enough away for Ojeda to scurry across the plate with the winning run.
In a country where Santeria, or black magic, is such a part of the culture, the field was never that generous in Mexico's two one-run losses to the Dominicans.
Playing for the right to sweat out the result of Friday's second game, Mexico got another outstanding effort from its bullpen and also benefited from the absence of Venezuela's best player; Magglio Ordonez flew to Miami Friday for a prior engagement.
Mexico reliever Marc Kroon retired all eight batters he faced in relief of starter Rigo Beltran, and Luis Ayala picked up his second save in as many days despite having worked 2 2/3 innings in Mexico's 6-5 victory over Puerto Rico the night before.
“The only two games we lost were to the Dominicans, and look at the way we lost them,” Mexico manager Paquin Estrada said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Venezuela (3-3) was again a hard-luck loser. All three of its losses in the tournament were by one run.
“A hit here or a pitch there and we could have won this thing,” Venezuela manager Welby Bailey said.
The Venezuelans didn't miss Ordonez early, scoring four times in the first two innings.
Luis Rodriguez was central in both rallies, drawing a walk to leadoff the game, moving to third on a single by Luis Ordaz and scoring on a sacrifice fly by Robert Perez.
A bases-loaded single by Heber Gomez was the key hit in Mexico's three-run second inning, but the Venezuelans responded in their next at bat, recapturing the lead on Rodriguez's three-run home run.
Venezuela added a run to its lead in the fourth when Luis Landaeta tripled and scored on a single by Gabriel Torres.
Mario Valdez drew a bases-loaded walk and Adan Amezcua followed with a run-scoring single to tie the game in the sixth, setting the stage for another exciting finale.
“It was a very evenly matched, hard-fought series,” Ayala said. “I'm proud to be wearing the colors of Mexico.”
Dominican Republic (Licey) 5-1
Mexico (Culiacan) 4-2
Venezuela (Aragua) 3-3
Puerto Rico (Ponce) 0-6