By Milton Jamail
January 24, 2002
Magallanes and Aragua, teams located only 30 miles apart, are battling in the best-of-seven Venezuelan League finals. While Magallanes has played for the league title for the past two seasons, it has been 10 years since Aragua has advanced, and Aragua and Magallanes last faced each other in the league finals in 1975 when Magallanes was led by sluggers Don Baylor and Dave Parker.
Magallanes breezed through the 16-game round-robin semi-finals with a 12-4 record. The fight between Aragua and Lara for the second spot went down to the last game. Aragua finished with a 10-6 mark, while Lara was 9-7. Pastora was 6-9, The Caribes, who won the Eastern Division regular season, could barely win a game in the round-robin and were eliminated early. The Caribes finished with a 2-14 record, but one of those victories was a season-ending win over Lara that prevented Lara from a tie-breaking game with Aragua.
During the round-robin, Magallanes was led by an outstanding offensive performance from Carlos Guillen (Mariners) who batted .352-2-8. Endy Chavez (Tigers) hit .378-0-6. Closer Oscar Henriquez posted a 2-0 record with 5 saves. Magallanes outfielder Melvin Mora (Orioles) broke a finger in a post-season game and is out of the finals.
Magallanes added Lara outfielder Robert Perez, who batted .379-6-22 in the round-robin, to the roster and were hoping Richard Hidalgo (Astros) would also play. The Magallanes rotation will be Ruben Quevedo (Brewers), Jeremi Gonzalez (former Cubs), Johan Santana (Twins) and Andrew Lorraine (Marlins). For the finals they have also added Dominican righthander Danny Mota (Dodgers) to the bullpen.
Aragua’s lineup features veterans Robert Zambrano, who was the Venezuelan League MVP, and catcher Winkleman Gonzalez and prospects such as shortstop Miguel Cabrera (Marlins) and outfielder Juan Rivera (New York Yankees). Both Rivera and the 18 year-old Cabrera were awarded Gold Gloves for their outstanding defensive performances.
In the round-robin Rivera batted .391-4-10, and Cabrera was .293-3-15. Aragua’s rotation will be Jason Simontacchi, Douglas Silva, Rosman Garcia (Yankees) and Juan Carlos Pulido. Aragua added righthander Kelvim Escobar (Blue Jays) to set up closer Victor Zambrano (Devil Rays).
Rookie of the Year
Jannio Gutierrez (Twins), was among players in the running for the rookie of the year award. The 19-year-old righthander appeared in 23 games with Aragua and had 26 strikeouts in 27 innings while posting a 2.93 ERA. The 2001 season was Gutierrez’ first in professional baseball and while he had no decisions with the Gulf Coast Twins, he posted a 0.31 ERA with 16 saves while striking out 48 batters in 29 innings.