Qualifier Notebook

Complete Coverage of the Americas Olympic Qualifier

Compiled By John Manuel

November 2, 2003

Team USA’s second game of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Panama was rained out Saturday. Team USA was scheduled to play Brazil, and the makeup date had yet to determined. The schedule has built-in off days on Nov. 3 (Monday) and Nov. 6 (Thursday).

Both sides waited out a three-hour delay before the decision was made to postpone the game. The teams had played the top of the first inning, with Brazil going down scoreless despite a leadoff double by Tiajo Ojima. Righthander John VanBenschoten (Pirates) had gotten the start for Team USA after scheduled starter Justin Duchscherer (Athletics) came down with a stomach virus.

Team USA was getting ready to bat in the bottom half when the rains, which have affected tournament early and are forecast to do so often, arrived.

Team USA has two off days scheduled before facing Colombia (0-1) on Tuesday at 10 a.m. EST. Lefthander Horacio Ramirez (Braves), who has arrived in Panama healthy but whose status on the team is still the subject of a Puerto Rican-sponsored protest, is the scheduled starter.

Cuba’s game against Mexico on Friday night and Brazil’s scheduled opener against Panama also were rained out and have been rescheduled for Monday.

The Bahamas Out

The Bahamas officially withdrew from the tournament, making it the fourth nation–joining Aruba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela–to pull out of the Olympic qualifier.

The Bahamas’ withdrawal means all four teams–Canada, Cuba, Mexico and Puerto Rico–from Pool A will advance to the medal round. That probably would have happened anyway, as the Bahamas has a poor international track record in baseball. The Bahamian team reportedly had customs problems getting into Panama.

Puerto Rico Tops Mexico

PANAMA CITY, Panama–Amid the turmoil and rain of the Olympic qualifier, Puerto Rico provided an example of why international baseball has such potential and intrigue.

Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Albaladejo (Pirates) turned in an outing reputations are built on Saturday night, allowing Mexico just three hits and a run over seven innings as Puerto Rico held on for a 5-1 victory, its first of the Olympic qualifier.

Albaladejo, 21, came of age against a veteran Mexican lineup that grew more perplexed by the 6-foot-5 righthander as the night wore on.

Albaladejo led the Puerto Rican League in ERA last offseason and carried that momentum over into 2003. The Pirates prospect went 12-5, 3.11 for Class A Hickory in the South Atlantic League in 2003, posting a 110-19 strikeout-walk ratio in 139 innings and allowing just 114 hits.

But Mexico’s lineup features veterans from its professional league as well as minor leaguers. Albaladejo realized he wasn’t in the Sally League anymore during a shaky first inning, needing help from his defense. Third baseman Jose Flores’ relay throw home cut down Robert Mendez at the plate trying to score on a two-out double by Luis Garcia.

After that, the only other bump along Alvarado’s path came with two outs in the sixth inning when Heber Gomez launched a 2-2 fastball just over the wall in left field for a solo homer.

Albaladejo was a 19th-round draft pick out of Miami-Dade Community College in 2001 and was one of Puerto Rico’s top pitchers last year in the Caribbean Series. He’s fast emerging as one of the island’s best prospects and finished the night having pitched seven innings. Baseball America’s Pirates correspondent, John Perrotto, reports that Albaladejo usually throws 92-93 mph with excellent command, and has a curveball, changeup and slider, none of which is a consistent second pitch.

He got enough support along the way. Puerto Rico pumped out 11 hits, striking early before wasting scoring opportunities in the middle innings.

They scored twice in the second against Mexican starter Edgar Leyva, who struggled with his location during his brief tenure on the mound. Leyva walked Omar Garcia to lead off the inning and Robinson Cancel lofted a single to right to put runners on first and second. Jose Flores then moved the runners over with a dribbler back to the mound and Angel Pagan (Mets) singled home Garcia. Pagan and Flores then pulled off a perfect double steal to make it 2-0.

The Puerto Ricans added another run in their next at bat when Luis Figueroa led off the inning with an opposite field double and scored on a single by Jose “Chepito” Munoz.

Puerto Rico wasted a leadoff triple by Pagan starting the fourth and a double play took them out of a first-and-third one out rally situation in the fifth.

They nearly wasted another scoring opportunity in the sixth, but with runners at first-and-third and one out, Mexican second baseman Oscar Robles gobbled up a grounder by Figueroa, chased Raul Nieves back to first, but failed to tag him before throwing to first, allowing Puerto Rico’s fourth run to score.

Puerto Rico added an insurance run in the eighth on an RBI single by Nieves.

Giancarlo Alvarado came out of the bullpen for Puerto Rico to toss a perfect eighth inning and Jose Alberro sailed through the ninth to preserve the victory.

–ERIC EDWARDS, San Juan Star