Through three decades of Caribbean Series play Mexico was the afterthought.
Francisco Campos turned in another brilliant outing and Mexican champion Mazatlan held on in the final game of a marathon lineup of baseball, edging the Dominican Republic 4-3 to win the Caribbean Series.
The title is just Mexico’s fifth since joining the competition in 1970, but its second in the last four years.
“The other two times we’ve finished second” said Mexican league president Renato Vega, pointing out that the streak has coincided with his ascension to the post in 2002.
Campos allowed just three hits--two infield hits and a bunt single – and a run over his first eight innings of work, striking out 11. He tired in the ninth however, walking Luis Polonia and yielding a single to Miguel Tejada before getting replaced by Jose Luis Garcia.
Matt Cepicky cut Mexico’s lead to 4-2 with an RBI single and Ronnie Belliard brought them within one with a run-scoring single off of Mexican closer Luis Ayala.
Ayala, however, got out of the jam with a double play and a weak ground ball, sending those fans who stayed until 2 a.m. into a jubilant celebration.
“I was completely confident that we were going to win,” said Campos. “It was the game of my life.”
The game didn’t begin until close to 1 a.m. Eastern time (11 p.m. in Mazatlan). Rain Saturday washed out play and forced all four teams to play doubleheaders Sunday.
The loss defused a Dominican team that had won two straight games after arriving late and losing its first two of the six-game round-robin tournament.
If the Dominicans (2-3) had won Sunday a victory over Puerto Rico (1-4) in their makeup game Monday would have forced a tiebreaking game for the title with Mexico. Instead they will play for a share of second place with Venezuela (3-3), which dropped both of its games Sunday, to the Dominicans (5-1) and Puerto Rico (4-3, 12 innings). Mexico beat Puerto Rico in their afternoon game, 5-0.
Puerto Rico’s victory – Randy Ruiz delivered the game-winning home run in the 12th--ended a streak of 12 straight Series losses dating back to 2003. It wasn’t enough, however, for them to escape a second straight last-place finish.
“I was pretty confident. I knew I could get that final out. We believed in ourselves,” said Ayala.
Mexico’s quick strike offense again broke through early against Dominican starter Francisco Pena, scoring twice in the opening inning. Trenidad Hubbard opened the game with a single and Vinny Castilla drew a walk. Derrick White then plated them with a double. Mazatlan added to its lead in the fifth on a two-run home run by Erubiel Durazo.
Pena worked five innings, allowing four hits and four runs and taking the loss. The Dominicans team had won six of the last eight competitions and was favored to win this one as well. But things began going wrong even before the tournament began. Their charter flight from Santo Domingo was overbooked and eventually canceled, forcing the Dominican team to miss its opening game with Puerto Rico.
“Obviously we’re not happy, but we’ll win it next year,” said Dominican shortstop Miguel Tejada.