Caribbean Series Game Recaps

By Eric Edwards

Dominican Republic 7, Mayaguez 3

Mayaguez manager Nick Leyva said perfection would be the order of the day if the Puerto Ricans hoped to beat a superior Dominican Republic team. Perfection, however, went sailing through, over and around the Mayaguez infield as Dominican champion Aguilas pounded the Indians into submission 7-3 Saturday night to win the Caribbean Series title.

American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Tejada had four hits–a single, two doubles and a triple–driving in the first Dominican run in a four-run first inning, and starter Claudio Vargas held the Indians to just three hits over six innings.

Saturday’s tie-breaking game was more a second act to Friday’s prologue as the Dominicans broke on top early and got masterful pitching from starter Claudio Vargas and the bullpen to hold on for the victory. Jose Acevedo struck out 12 over seven two-hit innings in Friday’s 6-0 win.

“That first inning just killed us,” said Leyva. “If we get out of that down just a run and we hand a 1-0 deficit to our bullpen in the middle innings, things could have been different.

After getting off to a 0-for-3 start against Caguas in the opening game of the Series, Tejada was on base more than off, finishing with a .462 average, seven RBIs and nine runs scored as the Dominicans won the Series for the second straight time on Puerto Rican soil.

“After that first game I took what the pitchers gave me, started going the opposite way,” said Tejada, who scored three times and drove in another run.

In 1999, David Ortiz was the hero, driving in the Series-winning runs in the 11th inning of the tie-breaking game. He made an encore performance here, edging Tejada to get named Series MVP.

“It’s an honor to play a central role again,” said Ortiz, who almost didn’t make the trip after getting involved in a post-game scuffle in the Dominican Republic that ended with an Aguilas fan in critical condition. “There was some uncertainty following that incident but this performance should help put that behind me.”

The Boston Red Sox first baseman helped force the extra game Friday, setting the tone by driving in the Dominicans’ two first-inning runs. On Saturday he went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs in the Dominicans 14-hit attack.

Tony Batista also had two doubles and two RBI

“That’s a pretty good lineup they have over there,” said Leyva. “Sometimes you have to just tip your cap to the other side. You can‚t always win and they played better than us the last two games.”

In Saturday’s rubber match it was Tejada who broke the ice, plating Rafael Furcal–who had singled and stolen second base–for the first of four runs in the inning.

Ortiz helped keep it going with a line single to right field and Tony Batista made it 2-0 off of Mayaguez starter Josue Matos by doubling down the third base line.

With runners at second-and-third, Matos drove a nail into his own foot with a wild pitch, that allowed Ortiz to score from third base and Raul Mondesi capped the scoring in the inning with a sacrifice fly to left field.

The Dominicans added another run in the third as Tejada doubled to left field and stole third base before Ortiz lined a run-scoring double down the left field line to make it 5-0.

Tejada and Ortiz again teamed up in the ninth inning as Tejada doubled with two outs and scored on a triple to right field by Ortiz. Batista put an end to the scoring with ground-rule double that plated Ortiz.

“There aren’t too many options with that team,” said Leyva. “You get to thinking you would like to walk this guy then you look on deck and the next guy is David Ortiz or Tony Batista or Raul Mondesi. They have one of the best teams I’ve seen put together for one of these tournaments.”

The Puerto Rican offense, meanwhile, picked up where it left off Friday, struggling just to put runners in scoring position, much less score, against one of the Dominicans lesser-known pitchers.

Mayaguez’s best chance to score before their game-ending spurt in the ninth came in the eighth when Javier Valentin doubled leading off the inning against Dominican reliever Hipolito Pichardo and reached third on an infield single by Wilbert Nieves an out later. Lefthander Damaso Marte then came on from the bullpen to strike out Donzell McDonald and get Luis Figueroa to fly out, ending the inning.

In the ninth, Julius Matos plated the first two runs on a drive to the wall that Mondesi couldn’t run under. The ball bounced off his glove, allowing Wilfredo Quintana and Luis Lopez to score. Javier Valentin breathed the Puerto Ricans last gasp, plating Matos with a sacrifice fly.

Mayaguez 1, Caguas 0

The Mayaguez Indians pitching staff ran its string of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to 35 Thursday night as they shut out the Caguas Criollos, 1-0, to setup a final game Caribbean Series showdown today with Dominican champion Aguilas.

Righthander Chris Rojas took the baton Thursday, allowing just two hits over six innings, and the bullpen was again impenetrable, shutting down the Criollos without a hit over the final three innings.

“The only thing more incredible than the (pitching) streak we’ve got going is beating the Caguas Criollos seven straight times,” said Mayaguez manager Nick Leyva, whose team has now won 10 straight games, including the last five games of the championship series in Puerto Rico against Caguas. “I still don’t believe it. That’s a very good team on the other side of the field.”

As was true in the championship series, neither team could muster much offense Thursday, but the Valentin brothers, Jose Antonio (Tony) and Jose Javier (Javier), provided just enough in the sixth inning to hold off a game Criollos club.

Tony Valentin ignited the rally with a line single to centerfield with one out and Luis Lopez drew a walk from Caguas reliever Pedro Feliciano to put runners at first and second. Valentin then made a key play, tagging up and reaching third on a fly ball to centerfield by Julius Matos.

The younger Valentin, Javier, then followed with a line single to left field that plated Tony for the game winner.

“Runs were hard to come by again against the Criollos. We didn’t do much with the bats, but we were able to string a few hits together in the sixth and get one on the board,” said Tony Valentin. “The way this pitching staff has been going we had a feeling it might be enough.

After shutting out Mexico in the first game of the Series 2-0, the only blemish on the record of the Indians staff is a three-run home run off the bat of Caguas outfielder Orlando Merced in their first meeting.

The Indians allowed an unearned run in their 7-1 victory over Mexico Wednesday,.

With just three earned runs over five games the Indians are in line to break the record for the lowest team ERA ever in a Caribbean Series.

That, however, was the farthest thing from Leyva’s mind headed into Friday’s match-up with the Dominicans.

“I’m sure no one is going to be worried about a record in that game, we just want to win a title,” said Leyva, whose team clubbed the Dominicans 10-0 in their first meeting Tuesday. “There will be no blowout this time. Those guys know there’s no tomorrow if they lose, so they’re going to be giving us everything they have,”

The Indians, meanwhile, could live to fight another day should they lose. If the Dominicans prevail Friday both teams would have a 5-1 record and would play a tie-breaking game Saturday for the championship.

Leyva, however, can’t wait that long.

“I’ve got a 9:50 a.m. flight Saturday so this had better not go past (Friday),” said Leyva. “We’re going to need another huge pitching effort against that lineup.”

The Indians will send Dicky Gonzalez to the hill Friday. Gonzalez logged five shutout innings in Puerto Rico’s 2-0 victory over Mexico in the Indians’ Series opener.

Tony Valentin said the key will be again striking early against the Dominicans, who will sent right-hander Jose Acevedo to the mound for the second time in the series. Acevedo allowed five hits and three runs over four innings in his first start against Caguas.

“We’ve got to be aggressive early and try to set them on their heels,” said Valentin. “We know it’s not going to be easy.”

Dominican Republic 11, Mexico 4

The Dominican Republic made sure the two trains still on the track at the Caribbean Series remained on a collision course Thursday, pounding a hapless Mexico squad, 11-4, to set up a championship showdown with Puerto Rican champion Mayaguez Friday night.

The Dominican lineup again overran the opposition, scoring seven runs or more for the fourth time in the series–doing so with a twist this time, as their two big rallies each began with two outs.

After two innings of spinning their wheels, the Dominicans gained traction in the third, as Luis Polonia singled with two outs, Miguel Tejada drew a walk and David Ortiz pounded a fastball from Mexican starter Alejandro Romero over the right field wall for a 3-0 lead.

After the Mexicans got a run back in the fourth inning on a run-scoring single by Saul Soto, the Dominicans went to work in their next turn at bat. A two-out blooper by Tejada found an open space in left field, bounding high for a double, and after an intentional walk to Ortiz, Tony Batista drilled a double to left field that scored both runners for a 5-1 advantage. Guillermo Garcia later added a two-run single to make it 7-1.

The Mexicans pulled to within four runs of Dominican starter Robert Ellis in the seventh inning, as 40-year-old Matias Carrillo doubled home Victor Bojorquez and scored on a single by Bubba Smith.

The Dominicans broke the game open in the eighth inning against Mexican reliever Mike Garcia as the middle of the order again did most of the damage.

Tejada, who has been red-hot after going 0-for-3 in the first game, tripled home Felix Martinez and Polonia, and Ortiz plated another run with a single to left field.

Mayaguez plans to send Montreal Expos righthander Dicky Gonzalez to the mound against the Dominicans. The Dominicans managed just two hits and no runs in their first meeting against Mayaguez, whose pitchers have allowed just eight runs during their nine game winning streak that includes the final five contests of the Puerto Rico championship series against Caguas.

With just 11 pitchers on their staff, the Dominicans will likely throw righthander Jose Acevedo again. Acevedo filled in for last-minute scratch Julian Tavarez in the opener against Caguas, allowing five hits and three runs over 4 1/3 innings.

Dominican Republic 7, Caguas 4

The Caguas Criollos offense took another step out of hibernation Wednesday, but the team’s defense and depleted pitching staff curled up in a ball as the Criollos fell, 7-4 to a Dominican Republic squad that showed no after-effects from the 10-0 pounding it took the night before.

The Criollos pounded out 14 hits, but continued with their habit of making the least of each scoring opportunity, failing to score with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning, and stranding runners at second and third after getting them there with one out in the fourth.

“A lot of things went wrong today,” said Caguas manager Jerry Morales, whose team, along with Mexico, was officially eliminated from the Caribbean Series with the loss. “We didn’t catch the ball, we couldn’t get anyone out and we couldn’t get the big hits when we needed them. That’s not a recipe for success.”

The defeat was the Criollos’ eighth in their last nine games including their Puerto Rican League’s championship series loss to Mayaguez.

In that series, the Criollos bats fell silent–and generating offense continued to be a struggle for them through the first three games of the six-game round-robin tournament.

On Wednesday the hits were flowing, but runs were still hard to come by.

For the third straight game Caguas (1-3) broke out to an early lead, scoring–but just once–after loading the bases with one out on a sacrifice fly by Jorge Padilla in the second inning.

The Criollos added two more runs in the third inning on Edwards Guzman’s second home run of the series, a two-run shot over the right field wall off of Dominican starter Jose Mercedes.

Back at the top of their lineup to start the third inning, the Dominicans quickly pulled even off Caguas righthander Rafael Medina, loading the bases on singles by Rafael Furcal and Luis Polonia and a walk to Miguel Tejada.

After Medina struck out Felix Jose, he hit Tony Batista with a pitch to force in the first run, and appeared to be out of the inning when David Ortiz struck a sharp ground ball to Guzman at first base.

Guzman stepped on the bag and fired home to the usually sure-handed Hector Ortiz, but the ball caromed off of Ortiz’s glove, allowing both Polonia and Tejada to score, tying the game at 3-3.

“That play set the tone for the rest of the game,” said Morales. “We get both outs there and it’s a different ball game.”

Instead, Medina’s meltdown continued in the fourth, and Morales was forced to dig into his thin pitching staff much earlier than he had hoped.

Guillermo Garcia led off the inning with a ground-rule double, ending the night for Medina.

Orlando Roman came on, but provided little respite. The young righthander hit Furcal with a pitch and walked Polonia to load the bases. Tejada then tied the game at four with a run-scoring single to centerfield and Roman walked Jose to force in what proved to be the game-winning run.

“With just 11 pitchers in a short series such as this I was trying to squeeze as much out of each guy as possible,” said Morales. “But no one would cooperate. I was counting on Medina for five innings, and Roman for at least a couple of more, but they didn’t get me past the fourth inning.”

By then the Criollos offense was nearly spent.

Other than the bases-loaded threat in the seventh, Caguas struggled to put runners in scoring position as Alex Cora and Padilla hit into inning-ending double plays in the sixth and eighth.

The Criollos begin playing out the string today in a game that will matter for the other side. They’ll send lefthander Luis Arroyo to the mound against Chris Rojas for Mayaguez.

“We’re playing for pride now, but I know this team would like to finally beat Mayaguez,” said Morales, whose team has now lost six straight to the Indians.

Mayaguez 7, Mexico 1

What do you need a pinky finger for anyway?

A day after getting a scare when a fastball from Dominican reliever Duaner Sanchez hit him on the small finger of his left hand, Luis Lopez returned with a vengeance. He drove in four runs with a bases-loaded double and two-run home run as the Mayaguez Indians downed Mexico 7-1 to run their unbeaten record at the Caribbean Series to 4-0.

Including the championship series in Puerto Rico, Mayaguez has now won nine straight games and has held its opponents to just eight runs over that span.

On Wednesday it was Mike Porzio’s turn to shut down the opposition, and he did exactly that–allowing just five hits and a run over 5 2/3 innings.

By that time Mayaguez already led 5-1 as the Indians got to lefthanded starter Dennis Reyes before he had time to dig out a home in front of the rubber.

Reyes hit Mayaguez leadoff man Donzell McDonald with a pitch to open the game then walked Cesar Crespo to quickly put runners on first and second. Alex Diaz then hit a ball that found a path under the glove of Ramon Orantes at third base, allowing McDonald to score.

Reyes then hit Tony Valentin with a pitch to load the bases and Lopez followed with a double to right-center field for a 3-0 Mayaguez advantage.

Lopez made it 5-0 in the third, driving a ball well over the wall in left field, scoring Alex Diaz, who had walked to lead off the inning, in front of him.

Mexico scored its only run in the fifth in the fifth inning–of the unearned variety–when Darryl Brinkley reached second on a throwing error by Indians third baseman Julius Matos, moved to third on a balk by Porzio and scored on a single by Heber Gomez.

The Mayaguez bullpen took over from there as Jose Santiago, J.C. Romero and Jason Childers allowed just one hit over the final 3 1-3 innings to preserve the victory.

The Indians will send Chris Rojas to the mound today against Caguas, while the Criollos will counter with Luis Arroyo.

Mayaguez 10, Dominican Republic 0

Enrique Calero stood logic on its head Tuesday night, shutting down a powerful Dominican Republic lineup over six innings while the Mayaguez Indians beat up on both Odalis Perez and a vaunted Dominican bullpen in a 10-0 Puerto Rican romp at the Caribbean Series.

The victory improved Mayaguez’srecord to 3-0 in the six-game round-robin tournament, while the Dominicans (2-1) will now be forced to play catch-up.

The Indians hope to get help from their countrymen Wednesday as Caguas sends righthander Rafael Medina to the mound against the Dominicans, who will counter with Jose Mercedes.

Calero, released by the Kansas City Royals in October, struck out five batters over the first two innings and retired the last 12 hitters he faced. He allowed just two hits, walked one and finished with six strikeouts against a lineup that had produced 13 runs in its first two games.

“This was the most important accomplishment of my career,” said Calero, who will be going to his first major league camp this spring. “I never expected to pitch so well against such a good lineup, but I did have a few dreams about it.”

Mayaguez’shitters, meanwhile, needed a trip through the lineup to figure out Perez, the Los Angeles Dodgers ace who had fired up the Puerto Ricans with comments he made about the Indians lineup being little more than “Tony Valentin, and eight other guys.”

Perez struck out the first five batters he faced, sailing through the first three innings.

An infield hit by Valentin ignited Mayaguez’sfirst rally. He moved to third on a single by Luis Lopez and scored on a sacrifice fly by Julius Matos.

Javier Valentin, Tony’syounger brother, then drew a walk, and Lopez took third on a wild pitch by Perez. Wilbert Nieves and Luis Figueroa followed with consecutive run-scoring singles to put a sudden end to Perez’sevening.

“The guys were aware of the comments Odalis made, and I think they were determined to show that this ballclub deserves more respect,” said Mayaguez manager Nick Leyva. “Perez was awesome over the first three innings, but he fell into a pattern, we figured it out and were able to sit on some pitches in the fourth inning.”

The Dominican bullpen fared even worse. Luis Vizcaino surrendered a solo home run to Tony Valentin with one out in the fifth, and Donzell McDonald greeted hard-throwing prospect Duaner Sanchez with an RBI double in the sixth for a 5-0 lead.

The skies opened in the seventh as the Indians clubbed both Sanchez and his lefthanded relief, Jesus Pena.

Tony Valentin again got things started, leading off the inning with a double. Sanchez then hit Lopez with a pitch and Matos followed with a double to centerfield that scored Valentin.

“Odalis may have beaten Atlanta and San Francisco but he forgot to beat Puerto Rico,” said Valentin. “We put guys in scoring position against and capitalize on our scoring opportunities. Once we got the three runs and he was out of the game, things just snowballed for us.”

After an intentional walk to Javier Valentin loaded the bases, Wilbert Nieves lined a grounder down the third base line that ricocheted off the glove of Tony Batista and down the left field line, allowing Lopez and Matos to score.

That brought on Pena from the bullpen, but he was little help–surrendering a two-run double to McDonald.

Fernando Cabrera came on to spell Calero and put his foot on the neck of the Dominican batters, striking out six over the final three innings.

Caguas 4, Mexico 1

Two pitchers familiar to the Mexican lineup rolled them into a burrito Tuesday as the Caguas Criollos finally ended their seven-game losing streak, holding off Los Mochis, 4-1 in the third day of the Caribbean Series.

Angel Miranda and Jose Alberro, who both pitched last year in the Mexican Summer League, allowed just four hits over the first eight innings, and the Criollos finally got the clutch hits that had been missing during their skid.

Orlando Merced, added as a reinforcement player for this six-game round-robin tournament, hit his second home run in as many days–and it again came in the opening inning.

This time, the rest of the lineup chipped in.

Alex Cintron tripled and scored on a wild pitch by Mexican starter Rafael Diaz in the second, and the Criollos added two more runs in the sixth as another reinforcement, Edwards Guzman, doubled home Merced. Omar Garcia, who had singled earlier in the inning, scored on a fielder’s choice ground ball by Jose Molina.

“We broke our maiden,” said Caguas manager Jerry Morales. “It wasn’t exactly a breakout performance, but it was better than we had been doing. This time when we put guys in scoring position we actually got a couple of key hits. Hopefully this is the beginning of a little run.”

Miranda, who spent five seasons in the big leagues with Milwaukee before laboring for the past six summers in Mexico, pitched the first five innings, allowing just two hits.

Alberro, Miranda’sformer teammate in Arecibo, then came on and took the game into the ninth before tiring.

Mexico scored its lone run on singles by James Lofton, Bubba Smith and Jayson Bass, then loaded the bases after Alberro issued a two-out walk to Saul Soto.

Morales, who had wanted Alberro to hang on for the save, then turned to lefthander Matt Hampton, who struck out Calvin Pickering on three pitches to end the game.

“I stuck with Alberro a little longer than I usually would have because I thought he deserved every opportunity to get the save,” said Morales. “But sometimes you wait too long in those situations. After the walk to Soto, with Pickering coming up, it was time.”

Miranda, who retired the first 11 hitters he faced despite battling the flu, said his familiarity with the Mexican lineup was an advantage.

“I know how to pitch most of those guys. From the first inning, I could tell I had my good stuff,” said Miranda. “I could have gone longer, but I felt comfortable turning the ball over to (Alberro). He’s still one of the best closers in this league.”

Getting an early lead was also a pleasant change.

“That helped me relax and just go after guys,” said Miranda.

Many feared Merced, who hadn’t faced live pitching in nearly a month, would just add to the Criollos struggles in this competition.

But after his three-run home in the first of two straight losses (to the Dominicans and Mayaguez), Morales moved him into the third spot in the order.

“I was pressing the first game, trying to do too much,” said Merced. “In the second game I was just trying to make good contact, and the way this game works, that’s usually when the home runs come.”

Dominican Republic 8, Mexico 4

Through seven innings Monday the powerful Dominican Republic squad was getting yet another scare from underdog Mexico. But with the game tied at 4-4, Guillermo Garcia led off the seventh inning with a solo home run and the Dominicans went on to score twice more in the inning en route to an 8-4 victory.

The Dominicans, who edged Caguas 4-3 in their opener Sunday, are now 2-0 in the six-game round-robin tournament and face Puerto Rican champion Mayaguez on Tuesday in the featured game.

Dodgers lefthander Odalis Perez will get the start for the Dominicans, while Mayaguez will respond with righthander Enrique Calero.

The potent Dominican offense was on display early as they scored four times in the first two innings against Mexican starter Salvador Rodriguez.

Luis Polonia, ageless in Caribbean ball at 38, ignited the rally with a one-out single and moved to third when Felix Jose doubled two batters later.

Tony Batista then followed with a two-run double to left field and David Ortiz sent Batista home with a single.

The Dominicans’ fourth run came in the second on consecutive one-out doubles by Rafael Furcal and Polonia.

Over the next four innings Rodriguez was untouchable, retiring 12 straight batters until Garcia led off the seventh with an opposite field drive over the right field wall.

“The count was 3-and-1 and I was looking for a fast ball to drive. I got one,” said Garcia.

By then the Mexicans had drawn even, scoring twice off Dominican starter Claudio Vargas in the third inning on a two-run double by Heber Gomez. They added a run in the fourth on a solo home run by Calvin Pickering and another in the fifth when James Lofton doubled and scored on a single by Darryl Brinkley.

“The Mexicans seem to always play us tough,” said Dominican manager Felix Fermin. “And it always seems to unfold the same way. We get and early lead, then they come back to tie it. There’s not quit in that team.”

But once Rodriguez was removed from the game following Garcia’s blast, the floodgates opened as Polonia and American League MVP Miguel Tejada singled home two more runs. Abraham Nunez capped the scoring with a solo home run in the eighth inning.

“Garcia’s home run woke us up offensively,” said Fermin. “It got us relaxed and in good shape to face Mayaguez.”

Mayaguez 4, Caracas 3

Frustrated in their two previous attempts at squeezing past the Caguas Criollos on Monday night, the Mayaguez Indians finally edged them at the tape with an out to spare.

Luis Lopez, brought on as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, looped a run-scoring single to center field that capped a two-run ninth-inning rally as Mayaguez beat the Criollos for the sixth straight time, 4-3 in day two of the Caribbean Series.

It was vintage Mayaguez–a team that has won five Puerto Rican League titles over the last 12 years by manufacturing such comebacks.

“The deeper we get into games the more dangerous we become,” said Alex Diaz, who was 1-for-5 with a run scored in the game. “We always believe we can win.”

Manager Nick Leyva believed it to, even after he was thrown out of the game while protesting an umpire’s call at first base in the eighth inning.

“We got away with one,” said Leyva. “But this team always has another rally in it and we were able to find a way past those close calls that went against us.”

The Indians nearly fell victim to an early strike by a Criollos offense that scored just four times against them in the last five games of the final series.

Reinforcement outfielder Orlando Merced’s three-run home run in the first inning was nearly enough for the Criollos, but the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead.

Trailing 3-1 through six innings, Mayaguez manufactured a potential rally in the seventh inning and nearly tied the game in the eighth, but controversial umpire’s calls helped diffuse both opportunities.

Both plays involved Wilbert Nieves, who was called out trying to reach third base on a one-out single by Luis “Wicho” Figueroa in the seventh. Nieves, who appeared to have his hand on the bag before the high tag was applied, was again called out in a crucial situation in the eighth.

With a run in, runners on the corners and two outs, Nieves hit a high chopper behind the second base bag that the game’s other Luis Lopez fielded. His throw was on the money, but Nieves appeared to arrive at the bag as the same time as the ball. The umpire, however, again called him out, which sparked a protest that led to Leyva’s ejection.

The Indians, however, quickly threatened again against Caguas closer Joe Strong, who surrendered a leadoff single to Figueroa, then threw Donzell McDonald’s sacrifice bunt into centerfield, allowing the runners to reach second and third.

Cesar Crespo followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game, and after Diaz struck out and Tony Valentin was intentionally walked, Lopez found a soft spot in the middle of the Criollos defense to place his game winner.

The Indians, unbeaten at 2-0 in the six-game round-robin tournament, will face the undefeated Dominican champions in Tuesday’s featured game. Odalis Perez will start for the Dominicans against Enrique Calero.

“We just want five or six good innings from Enrique and we’ll let the bullpen do the rest,” said Leyva. “Everyone’s talking about the Dominicans being the overwhelming favorite. But don’t forget about the Indios. We’re going to go down swinging.”

Mayaguez 2, Mexico 0

Righthander Dicky Gonzalez used the home field to his advantage Sunday, leading the Mayaguez Indians to a 2-0 victory over Mexico in the Puerto Rican champions opening game of the Caribbean Series.

Mayaguez manager Nick Leyva chose Gonzalez, the ace pitcher for the Carolina Giants this winter, to start the opening game because of his familiarity with the playing field at Roberto Clemente Walker stadium.

Gonzalez rewarded Leyva’s confidence with five shutout innings as the Indians‚ reinforced pitching staff proved every bit as good as the original, yielding just five hits in the team’s sixth straight victory. Over that span, the Indian pitchers have allowed just four runs.

Mayaguez managed just five hits of their own, scoring twice in the second inning as Tony Valentin, the hero in the Indians final series victory, helped manufacture a run by drawing a walk and stealing second base ahead of a run-scoring single by Julius Matos.

Matos then moved to third on a single by Valentin’s younger brother Javier and scored on a sacrifice fly ball by Wilbert Nieves.

Leyva said before the game that he would only let Gonzalez, who hadn’t pitched in a live game in nearly a month, go five or six innings. “With the bullpen we have that’s all I need,” said Leyva.

That proved true Sunday as five Mayaguez relievers combined to shut down the Mexicans on just one hit over the final four innings.

Jason Childers, who has been untouchable since taking over for Mike MacDougal as the team’s closer, retired the Mexicans in order in the ninth, striking out the last two batters for the save.

Former Santurce standout Bronswell Patrick gave a good accounting of himself in a losing cause, allowing just four hits and two runs over seven innings for Mexico.

The Indians will face the Criollos on Monday in a rematch of the Puerto Rico championship series. Jaime Navarro will start for the Criollos against another Carolina reinforcement, Josue Matos.

“Matos was the strikeout leader this year, and he’s also pitching in his home park,” said Leyva. “We’ll be counting on that comfort level to help make the difference.”

Dominican Republic 4, Cauguas 3

By the standard they set in the championship series, three runs constitutes a torrent for the Caguas Criollos.

But while the offense at least gave them a chance in the opening game of the Caribbean Series on Sunday, the team’s supposed strength, its defense, let them down in the Criollos 4-3 loss to the Dominican Republic in front of a near sellout crowd at Roberto Clemente Walker stadium.

An old nemesis–David Ortiz–again delivered the fatal blow, a solo home run off of Caguas starter Omar Olivares in the top of the sixth inning that proved the game’s final run.

Ortiz broke Puerto Rico’s hearts four years ago in San Juan, doubling home the winning run in the 10th inning of the championship tiebreaker.

“It was a heck of a game,” said Criollos manager Jerry Morales. “Unfortunately it came down to a couple of defensive plays that we didn’t make, but this team showed heart out there.”

Caguas fell into an early hole when a misplayed sacrifice bunt led to an RBI double from Luis Polonia in the third inning. In the fourth, with runners on the corners and two outs, Criollos centerfield Luis Matos took three steps forward on a line drive by Alberto Castillo when he should have taken three steps back. The ball sailed over his head for a two-run double and proved the difference in the game.

“It’s a shame that one play changes the game like that,” said Edwards Guzman, who was added as a to this team as a reinforcement and paid early dividends with a two-run home run in the fifth inning that helped the Criollos pull even. “Luis didn’t see it after the ball came off the bat. He usually catches everything out there.”

Guzman’s two-run home run off of Dominican starter Jose Acevedo, a last-minute replacement when Julian Tavarez couldn’t get a visa for the trip, cut the Caguas deficit to one! and Hector Ortiz, the Puerto Rican league’s regular season MVP, went back-to-back with a solo shot that knotted the game and ended the night for Acevedo.

Dominican manager Felix Fermin then turned to his bullpen, and youngsters Duaner Sanchez and Damaso Marte allowed just one hit and not even the whiff of a rally over the final 4 2/3 innings.

“Their bullpen did a great job,” said Morales. “You have to give them

credit. Marte just got better as the game wore on.”

The Chicago White Sox righthander didn’t allow a hit and struck out four, including all three batters he faced in the Criollos final turn at bat. The Dominican fans, which easily out-numbered their hosts Sunday, erupted in celebration. The sparse local turnout didn’t go unnoticed by the Criollos.

“It’s pretty sad,” said Guzman. “People haven’t been coming out to the park here all year, why should we expect them to now.”

Olivares again pitched well for the Criollos although his numbers–he was charged with eight hits and four runs over six innings–didn’t reflect how sharp he was.

The Criollos bullpen also gave a solid account of itself as Pedro

Feliciano, Juan Padilla and Mike Hampton combined to hold the Dominicans hitless over the final three innings.

Morales was encouraged by signs of life from an offense that managed just four runs over the final five games of the Puerto Rico championship series.

“I think we’re on the verge of breaking out of it,” said Morales. “We got a couple of big hits today and that could be the jump start we need.”

The Criollos, who are playing in the six-game round-robin tournament in place of Venezuela, will face Mayaguez in a rematch of the finals.

Caguas will send Jaime Navarro to the mound, while the Indians will respond with Josue Matos.

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