By José Orozco
February 5, 2006
Venezuela rocks the house to take Series lead
MARACAY, Venezuela–In the battle of series favorites, Venezuela came back from a 7-2 deficit to beat the Dominican Republic 11-9 and take sole possession of the Caribbean Series lead.
Both teams depended on their offensive firepower in this nail-biter. The Dominican Republic showed its might early, with Erick Aybar hitting a two-run homer in the first to put the islanders up 2-0.
With the Dominicans up 7-2 in the seventh, Venezuela came back with five runs to knot the score at 7-7. Luis Rodriguez, who led the local winter league in hitting, drove in two runs to get the party started, while Alex Cabrera hammered a two-run homer to tie things at 7-7.
With Venezuela down 9-8 entering the ninth, Cabrera's strikeout to lead off the inning was a foreboding sign. But Ramon Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez hit singles, setting up the game's climax. Alex Gonzalez quickly proceeded to launch a three-run shot that sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Angels' righthander Francisco Rodriguez came in to retire three of the four batters he faced to earn the save.
Venezuela will again face Mexico today, a team they put up 17 runs on in the series opener.
In do or die match up, Puerto Rico survives while Mexico passes away
Faced with the shame of a third straight loss and the end of their Caribbean Series dreams, Mexico and Puerto Rico fought tooth and nail for nine hard innings yesterday.
Despite the game's crucial nature, Mexican manager Juan José Pacho seemed relaxed going into it. "Baseball is meant to be fun," said Pacho, implying that worrying about his team's poor showing would be counter-productive. "We know we have to play harder [today]."
Showing their desire to win, both teams showed off their offensive prowess, scoring a total of 19 runs. Both teams also pitched poorly and made critical defensive mistakes. But it was Mexico's key errors that made the difference.
Veteran outfielder Trinidad Hubbard got Mexico off to a hopping start with a leadoff double in the first, scoring on a Noe Muñoz single to center field.
Puerto Rico answered right back with four runs in the top of the second.
Coming into yesterday's game, Luis Figueroa was in no mood to cool off. After Pedro Valdes walked and Jose Valentin singled, Figueroa smacked a home run to put the Puerto Ricans up 3-1. Ruben Gotay got in on the action, singling with the bases loaded to score Victor Rodriguez.
After striking out in the second, Edwards Guzman got in on the free for all, scoring José Valentin from second on a single to left in the third, pushing the lead to 5-1.
Mexico's big inning got started by a pair of singles, followed by a run-scoring base hit by Daniel Fornes, which scored Miguel Ojeda. Ray Sadler followed with another single to drive in Edgar Gonzalez, who came into yesterday's matchup with a series-leading 5-for-6 at the plate. That made it 5-3.
After driving in their respective runs, Fornes and Sadler scored on a double from Luis Cruz, who carried Mexico with four hits and five RBIs. Mexico added another run on an Alex Cora error to go ahead ever so briefly.
Puerto Rico came right back, tying the game in their fourth, with a Valdes single scoring Gotay, who reached on a walk.
Mexico and Puerto Rico traded solo homeruns in the fifth, Guzman lining a shot to right center for the islanders and Mexican hero Cruz tying things up again at 7-7 with a drive down the left field line.
Trading leads has been the series pattern, and Mexico and Puerto Rico seemed happy to keep it that way.
With Puerto Rican hero Figueroa doubling to lead off the seventh, Victor Rodriguez drove the ball over the left field wall for a 9-7 lead. Mexico's Cruz answered with a two-run homer of his own in the bottom of the seventh to even the score once more.
In keeping with his role as team hero, Figueroa again came up big, singling to center in the ninth. Jesus Feliciano pinch ran for Figueroa, scoring the decisive run when Mexican star Edgar Gonzalez made an errant throw trying to turn a double play that would have ended the inning.
"I'm really proud of this team," said Figueroa in the Puerto Rican clubhouse after the game. "This was a do or die game and we won, thank God. We still have a shot at the championship."
Puerto Rico manager Lino Rivera seemed more than a little relieved that his team had pulled out this critical game. "This win helps a lot," said Rivera. "Desire [was key], we never quit. But we have to pitch better. If we pitch like we pitched today, we're not going to win many games."
Rivera's squad faces off today against the Dominican Republic as they seek to keep championship hopes alive in this Caribbean Series.