By Eric Edwards
February 5, 2003
It has been an exercise in frustration for those trying to dismantle the track ahead of this Dominican Republic locomotive.
Mexico got its second shot on Wednesday, and while it again loosened a bolt or two, Dominican champion Licey kept on rolling, edging Culiacan, 3-1, in 10 innings.
The victory was the fourth straight for the Dominicans (4-0) and puts them in position to close out their sixth Caribbean Series title in the last eight years. It would be the first time since 1988 that the Dominicans have won on their native soil. They need just one win in their final two games to clinch the title.
Licey’s performance could hardly be called dominant, however. Three times in this six-game round-robin it has prevailed by just one run. In its last two games it has needed an extra inning.
Those that have fallen to the Dominican Republic have not been barreled over, but tripped up in the end.
On Wednesday Sandy Martinez was the difference maker, launching an Oliver Perez fastball over the right-field wall in the top of the 10th. Perez had been overpowering in his three previous innings of relief, retiring nine of the 10 batter he faced.
“There are no excuses,” Mexico manager Paquin Estrada said. “They played better than we did and deserved to win this game.”
Mexico falls to 2-2 with the loss and into a second place tie with Venezuela. Venezuela champion Aragua could at least help prolong the suspense Thursday by winning its rematch with the Dominicans. Aragua lost the first match-up, 4-3, in 10 innings Tuesday. Mexico will need more good fortune than it has had so far to prevail, needing victories against winless Puerto Rico Thursday and Venezuela Friday as well as two losses by the Dominican Republic to have any hope of forcing a tie-breaking game Saturday.
Estrada said the Dominicans can thank their rabid fans for helping them escape so many close calls.
“They’re playing in familiar surroundings, not just in their home country, but their home stadium,” Estrada said. “It’s a factor having everyone behind you cheering you on.”
After Martinez put them ahead, the Dominicans added a measure of insurance after Mexican closer Luis Ayala came on to spell Perez. Ayala appeared on the verge of getting out of the inning when Miguel Tejada hit what looked to be an easy double play ball. But Mexico second baseman Jose Macias skipped his relay throw past first baseman Mario Valdez, allowing Luis Castillo, who had doubled, to score.
Neither team scored until the sixth inning; Mexico starter Francisco Campos and his Dominican counterpart, Rafael Roque, were locked in a pitcher’s duel.
The game would have remained scoreless through regulation play if not for defensive breakdowns by both sides in the sixth inning.
Mexico’s first mistake came as shortstop Benji Gil booted a grounder by Tejada. After Campos walked David Ortiz, Izzy Alcantara followed with a single to score Tejada.
Two Licey errors allowed the Mexicans to score in their next turn at bat. Jose Macias led off the inning with a single and took second when left fielder Mendy Lopez fumbled the ball. Macias then stole third, scoring when the catcher’s throw went into left field.
The game then turned into a battle of bullpens, and the Dominicans simply had more quality arms to run out there than Mexico.
Relievers Damaso Marte and Guillermo Mota took the game into extra innings for the Dominicans before Francisco Beltran got the save. Mexico managed just four hits on the night.
Mexico put a runner on third with two outs in the fourth inning, but Roque struck out Melvin Nieves to end the threat.
Venezuela 7, Puerto Rico 6
The second lap around the track is looking too much like the first for Puerto Rico.
For the second time in two meetings at the Caribbean Series, Venezuela champion Aragua rallied from a 6-5 deficit to beat Puerto Rico’s Ponce, 7-6. With the win on Wednesday, Venezuela pulled itself back into the title hunt while officially eliminating Puerto Rico.
Eduardo Rios hit a pair of tie-breaking home runs–a two-run shot in the fifth that gave Venezuela a 5-3 lead and a solo shot in the eighth that proved decisive.
Both blasts came off Puerto Rico reliever Jose Alberro, the second on a slider that had more hang time than a Tiger Woods sand wedge.
“I was looking for a pitch I could hit hard and he gave me one,” said Rios.
Venezuela is now 2-2 and back in the chase in the six-game round-robin tournament. Venezuela must win its rematches with the Dominican Republic (Thursday) and Mexico (Friday) and hope the Dominicans, who beat Mexico 3-1 on Wednesday, lose their final two, which would force a tie-breaking game on Saturday.
Puerto Rico, meanwhile, dropped its fourth straight game and will have little more than pride on the line in its last two games at Quisqueya Stadium against Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
“I never thought things would turn out like this,” said Puerto Rico manager Jose Cruz, who is managing in his first Caribbean Series. “We haven’t been very effective in our pitching, hitting or defense. Nothing has gone our way here.”
This game was nearly identical to the first meeting between the two teams in Sunday’s Series' opener–a back-and-forth battle that the Venezuelans pulled out at the end. Venezuela should be used to such battles by now–all four games it has played have been decided by one run.
“A little bit of luck here and there and we could be 4-0 right now,” Venezuela manager Welby Bailey said. “It seems that every game we play goes down to the last out.”
Puerto Rico struck first, scoring twice in the first inning on a solo home run by Carlos Rivera and another outfield misplay by Miguel Cabrera on a fly ball by Raul Casanova that allowed Luis Lopez to score. Raul Gonzalez singled home another run in the fourth to help Puerto Rico build a 3-0 lead.
That changed quickly in the fifth despite two heroic defensive efforts by Ponce shortstop Gabby Martinez that went for naught. Martinez made a spectacular diving stop on a ball hit in the hole by Rios leading off the inning, but first baseman Rivera couldn’t dig out his throw. Martinez made a nearly identical play on a ball hit by the next batter, Gabriel Torres, and appeared to force out Rios at second base. Torres was ruled safe, however, over the protests of second baseman Carlos Baerga. Replays showed that Baerga had good reason to complain.
Two batters later Luis Ordaz stepped to the plate and knotted the game, depositing a Chris Enochs offering over the left-field wall.
After Rios put his team ahead 5-3 in Venezuela’s next at bat, it was Puerto Rico’s turn to rally. Heating up after a 0-for-10 start, Gonzalez tied the game with a two-run shot of his own, and Puerto Rico edged ahead when Robert Perez let a single by Carlos Baerga skip by him and roll to the wall. Jose Molina, who had walked, came around from first base to score.
Cabrera opened the eighth inning with a double and took third when right fielder Juan LeBron bobbled the ball. He scored on a high chopper by Robert Perez off an infield still rock-hard even after Monday’s day of rain. Two batters later, Rios took Alberro up on his invitation to go yard.
Francisco Rodriguez, who had blown saves in his only two previous Series appearances–including Venezuela’s first meeting against Puerto Rico–showed up with his A-game Wednesday, retiring the side in order in the ninth to get the save.
Alberro allowed six hits and three runs over two innings to get charged with the loss.
Dominican Republic (Licey) 4-0
Mexico (Culiacan) 2-2
Venezuela (Aragua) 2-2
Puerto Rico (Ponce) 0-4