Venezuela Ends Puerto Rico’s Unbeaten Run

SAN JUAN, P.R.–Home field had been good to Puerto Rico.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium has been home to Venezuela’s Endy Chavez, too,
and the former Montreal Expos leadoff man rode its familiar jet stream
Monday night to get Venezuela back into race at the World Baseball

Chavez’s two-run home run off Joel Pineiro in the
fifth inning sailed on a brisk breeze over the right-field fence,
breaking up a scoreless tie and proving the difference in Venezuela’s
6-0 shutout of the host team in front of 19,400 fans at Bithorn Stadium.

never know in this game. (Endy’s) not supposed to hit home runs, but
he’s got two so far,” Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo said. “He didn’t
even know I had moved him up into the leadoff spot until just before
game time. Obviously the move paid off.”

Ahead in the count 3-1, Chavez was just looking for a pitch to drive.

knew he would probably come back with the fastball, but I wasn’t
looking for the home run, just a pitch I could turn on,” said Chavez,
who was with the Expos when they played 22 games in San Juan in 2003
and 2004.

Victor Martinez added a game-clinching grand slam
off of Puerto Rico reliever Ivan Maldonado (Mets) in the eighth inning
as Venezuela’s offense finally showed signs of life against a pitching
staff that had brought a team ERA of 1.06 into the game.

loss ended Puerto Rico’s four-game win streak on its home turf and
turned this bracket of the World Baseball Classic into a do-or-die
battlefield over the next two days.

Venezuela (1-1) faces
the Dominican Republic (1-1) on Tuesday. The winner moves on to the
semifinals at Petco Park in San Diego; the loser heads home. The same
holds true for Cuba’s (1-1) rematch with Puerto Rico (1-1) on Wednesday.

manager Manny Acta said he will start Daniel Cabrera and follow him
with Francisco Liriano. Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo will send Freddy
Garcia to the mound. Sojo joked that he was counting on Garcia to get
“just eight or nine innings out of his 80 pitches.”

Rico will start Dicky Gonzalez again against the Cubans. Cuban manager
Higinio Velez will likely unveil his starting pitcher 20 minutes before
game time of Wednesday night, as per his custom.

A day after
Venezuela’s bullpen came unhinged in a 7-1 loss to Cuba, Venezuelan
starter Carlos Zambrano had to sweat out a trio of scares after logging
four shutout innings.

Zambrano labored a bit in the first
inning but later was untouchable, allowing just two hits and striking
out five. But it looked as if Puerto Rico would feast off his relief,
when it quickly put runners on the corners against Carlos Silva on
singles by Jose Valentin and Alex Cintron with no one out in the fifth.

rally unraveled, however, when Alex Cora tried to bunt for a base hit.
The ball died in front of home plate and Venezuelan catcher Ramon
Hernandez forced out Cintron at second base. Shortstop Omar Vizquel
then turned and fired to third base, catching Valentin too far off the
bag for a double play. Television replays showed that Valentin got his
hand in before the tag was applied.

“That was something that
Alex did on his own,” Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo said. “Alex
Cintron did the same thing the night before and it worked. This time it
backfired. That’s baseball.”

Puerto Rico threatened again in
the sixth inning against Silva, again putting runners on the corners,
this time with two outs, but pinch-hitter Ricky Ledee flied out to left
field to end the threat.

Puerto Rico once again put runners
on the corners in the seventh, when Cora drew a two-out walk and
pinch-hitter Eduardo Perez singled to right field. But Gustavo Chacin
came on for Rafael Betancourt, getting Ivan Rodriguez to pop out to
Vizquel, frustrating the Puerto Ricans yet again.

“Our pitchers have been doing the job all series and they did it again against a tough Puerto Rico team,” said Sojo.

the time Martinez took Maldonado deep it was clear that Oquendo was
more concerned with keeping his bullpen fresh for Wednesday’s game than
remaining in the fight Monday.

Angels farmhand Willie
Collazo, the Puerto Rican League’s pitcher of the year this winter,
walked the first two batters he faced in the eighth. On came Maldonado,
a late addition to the staff who was 5-6, 5.25 last year between Class
A Port St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton.

Maldonado hit Miguel Cabrera with a pitch before serving up a fatty to Martinez.

were one or two guys I wanted to keep in reserve for Wednesday, and
this is a 14-man staff,” Oquendo said. “All these guys can pitch and I
plan to use them.”

Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez came on to
register the final three outs for Venezuela, which has shutout the
opposition in all three of its victories.


Copyright 2006