DR Wins Caribbean Series

The Leones del Escogido nearly didn’t make the 2010 Caribbean Series, but once they got there, they weren’t going to be denied their third championship as a franchise and 18th for the Dominican Republic overall.

The Dominican club was the best team thoughout the Series, which was hosted at Margarita Island, Venezuela. The Dominicans finished with a 5-1 record in the six-day, round-robin tournament, besting Puerto Rico’s 4-2 record by one game. The Puerto Ricans were followed by Mexico in third place at 2-4 and host nation Venezuela bringing up the rear at 1-5.

Escogido posted the best regular season record in the Dominican League and second-best record in the round-robin portion of the league’s playoffs, but then fell behind 2-0 in the league’s championship series before rallying to win in nine games over the Gigantes del Cibao. They carried that momentum over into the Caribbean Series, jumping out to a 3-0 start behind a dominant pitching staff and one daring piece of baserunning.

The Escogido pitching staff was led by Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano, who posted a 3-1, 0.49 record in seven postseason starts. “From all our reports,” Twins farm director Jim Rantz said, “he was throwing with his old velocity, and his slider was pretty good. He finished on a very, very strong note.”

Liriano declined to pitch in the Caribbean Series, leaving Escogido without its best starter. Despite the loss, Escogido’s pitching dominated the series, holding opponents to two runs or less in four of their five wins. The tone was set early on as the Dominicans held Puerto Rico to one run on seven hits in the series opener, squeaking out a 2-1 win. Former Cubs and Mets farmhand Raul Valdez held the Puerto Ricans to a run on six hits over six innings, and Reds first baseman Kevin Barker’s solo home run in the bottom of the sixth broke a 1-1 tie.

Mets righthander Nelson Figueroa may not have ingratiated himself to New York fans over the last two seasons, but he delivered the series’ best pitching performance on Day Two. Figueroa threw a three-hit complete game against Mexico, allowing only one run and striking out eight in a 7-1 win. That set the stage for the Dominicans’ showdown with host Venezuela on Day Three.

Venezuela came into the contest at 1-1, so the game was a major opportunity for the Dominicans to open up some space between themselves and the rest of the field. Played in front a raucous, partisan Venezuela crowd, the Dominicans fell behind 2-0 early but eventually rallied. With the scored tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh—the Dominicans were the designated home team—Phillies outfielder Freddy Guzman stole home against Venezulan lefthander Edgar Alfonzo to score what proved to be the winning run in a 3-2 win.

Puerto Rico Keeps It Close

With the Dominicans undefeated after three games and the other three squads all sitting at 1-2, it looked like the Dominicans would cruise to the title. But that notion gave way to the tournament’s pleasant surprise, Puerto Rico. Represented by the Indios de Mayaguez, who went just 18-24 during the Puerto Rican League’s regular season before turning things around in the playoffs, Puerto Rico started the series 0-2 with losses to the Dominicans and Venezuela. But the Puerto Ricans rallied, starting with a 5-3 win over Mexico on Day Three, and didn’t lose again the rest of the way.

Led by Mets outfielder Jesus Feliciano and Red Sox shortstop Angel Sanchez, the Puerto Ricans banged out 27 runs over their four wins after having plated only three runs in their two losses to open the series. They handed the Dominicans their only loss of the tournament on Day Four, a 7-3 win behind multi-hit performances by Feliciano as well as Blue Jays first baseman Randy Ruiz, Twins third baseman Danny Valencia and former big league catcher Raul Casanova. The win pulled the Puerto Ricans within a game of the Dominicans at 2-2, and they would keep the pressure on the heavily favored Dominicans for the last two days of the tournament, beating Venezuela 7-1 and Mexico 8-2 over the event’s last two days.

Mayaguez’ showing in the series was a welcome development for Puerto Rican baseball, coming just two years after the Puerto Rican League suspended operations for the 2007-2008 winter season and didn’t send a representative to the series. Moreover, the Puerto Rican entrants in the series had posted only one winning record since 2004, including a three-year stretch in which they won just three games from 2004-2006.

With Puerto Rico having beaten Mexico in the afternoon game on the tournament’s final day to improve its record to 4-2, the Dominicans went into the tournament finale against Venezuela knowing they had to win in order to avoid a one-game playoff.

They didn’t waste much time taking the pressure off, though they got some help from their hosts. After two walks, two Venezuelan errors, a balk and a wild pitch all in the top of the first inning, the Dominicans were staked to an early 4-0 lead and were never seriously threatened, winning 7-4 to clinch the title.

The tournament was largely void of top prospects. The two highest profile names both came from the Dominican squad in Mets outfielder Fernando Martinez, the series MVP, and Reds third baseman Juan Francisco. Martinez had a quiet regular season for Escogido, hitting just .191/.264/.213, but came alive during the Dominican League playoffs, when he hit .327/.320/.531, and Caribbean Series, batting .348/.375/.652 with two home runs. Francisco’s bat wasn’t as loud, but he did contribute a .261/.280/.478 line during the series.