MARACAY, Venezuela--Short on big names but long on national pride, the Caribbean Series kicked off yesterday with Puerto Rico facing the Dominican Republic and Mexico versus Venezuela.
The Licey Tigers, representing the Dominican Republic, are the heavy favorite. Representing Puerto Rico, the Carolina Giants come into the Caribbean Series hoping to end the Enchanted Island's recent malaise in this regional tournament.
The inspired Caracas Lions return to the series for the first time since 1982 and would love to bring the host country its first Caribbean crown in 16 years. Ironically enough, the defending champions, Mexico's Mazatlan Deer, come in as underdogs.
If the opener between the Dominican and Puerto Rico is any indication, this series promises to be a good one. Both teams took turns in the lead before the Giants succumbed to the Tigers in the 11th inning.
One of the biggest names here, Miguel Tejada received the loudest cheers, promptly showing why with a two-run double past the dive of Puerto Rican third baseman Luis Figueroa. Scoring were Anderson Hernandez, who reached on a single, and Erick Aybar, who got on base by fielder's choice.
The Giants answered in the bottom of the third when Pedro Valdes launched a three-run homer to straightaway center field with two outs. That put Puerto Rico up 3-2.
The Dominicans tied things up in the sixth with an RBI single by Napoleon Calzado.
An inning later, Hernandez galloped into third base with a triple. The Mets infielder scored with two outs when Willis Otañez bounced a ball over the pitcher, which shortstop Alex Cora handled well, but his errant throw pulled first baseman Edwards Guzman off first. Otañez snuck past Guzman's tag, giving Dominican Republic a 4-3 lead.
Puerto Rico came back in the bottom of the eighth with a two-out RBI single from Figueroa. A scoreless ninth took the game into extra innings where the Domincan Republic's Hernandez played the hero.
With two runners on, Hernandez singled to right field to push the Dominicans ahead of their island rivals. Puerto Rico threatened in the bottom of the 11th when Cora doubled, then headed to third base on a deep sacrifice fly by Jose Valentin. But Cora was stranded as Jorge Padilla struck out swinging to give the Dominicans a 5-4 win and a jump on the rest of the competition.
• In the second game, Venezuela took advantage of playing in front of their rabid home fans, rolling over Mexico, 17-1.
Alexander Cabrera started the onslaught with a two-run homer off Pablo Ortega in the fourth, and Ramon Hernandez hit for the cycle as the Venezuelans cruised to an easy win. Venezuela put up 21 hits on Mexico and 30-year-old Geremi Gonzalez was virtually untouchable. Gonzalez, who was signed by the Mets this offseason after spending last season with the Red Sox, allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked two over seven innings of work.The series won't get any easier for Mexico, who faces the Dominican Republic today in Valencia; while Venezuela travels to Maracay to play Puerto Rico.