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Americas Qualifier Roundup: Luis Liberato, Julio Rodriguez Lead Dominican Republic Over Puerto Rico In Opener

Julio Rodriguez Dominicanrepublic Tomdipace
Julio Rodriguez (Photo by Tom DiPace)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.— The Dominican Republic survived an unexpected challenge from Puerto Rico in the Group A opener Monday afternoon.

It has a pair of Mariners prospects it can thank for that.

Luis Liberato hit the tiebreaking home run, Julio Rodriguez made a critical sliding catch in the ninth inning and the Dominican Republic held on to beat Puerto Rico 5-2 in the opening game of the Americas Qualifier at Clover Park.

Liberato, a 25-year-old center fielder, launched a solo home run to deep right-center off reliever Ivan Maldonado to snap a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning. The Dominicans never trailed again, but it wasn’t smooth sailing.

After the Dominicans extended their lead to 5-2, Puerto Rico brought the tying run to the plate in both the eighth and ninth innings against the Dominican bullpen. Jumbo Diaz allowed a pair of singles in the eighth to bring up Noel Cuevas as the tying run with two outs in the eighth, but Liberato ran down Cuevas’ drive to center field to end the threat.

The even bigger catch came the following inning. Kevin Luciano and Ruben Castro led off the ninth with back-to-back singles against Dominican closer Jairo Asencio to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs. Edwin Gomez stepped to the plate as the tying run and lined a first-pitch fastball into right field. Rodriguez broke in quickly and made a sliding catch on the sinking liner, preventing a bases-loaded, no out situation and swinging the momentum of the inning.

Buoyed by Rodriguez’s catch, Asencio struck out the next two hitters, Michael Arroyo and Nelson Molina, to end the game and secure the Dominican victory.

Rodriguez finished 2-for-5 with two runs scored at the plate and Liberato went 1-for-2 with his home run and a pair of walks. Shortstop Gustavo Nuñez went 3-for-3 with a triple and a run scored Emilio Bonifacio and Diego Goris each had an RBI double.

Former Mets and Phillies lefthander Raul Valdes pitched seven innings with three hits and two runs allowed, one walk and five strikeouts for the Dominicans. The 43-year-old gutted through 112 pitches and retired 10 of his final 11 batters, including the last two via strikeout.

Rey Navarro supplied all of Puerto Rico’s offense with a two-run homer in the second inning that briefly gave it the lead, but Puerto Rico was unable to add to it. Luciano went 3-for-4 with a double and a run scored.

VENEZUELA 6, CUBA 5: Carlos Perez, Hernan Perez and Robinson Chirinos all homered and Venezuela held off a late rally from Cuba to win its Group B opener.

Venezuela never trailed despite a rocky start from Anibal Sanchez, who surrendered eight hits and three runs in four innings. The Venezuelans took a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but Lisban Correa hit a two-run homer to bring Cuba within a run. Yordanis Samon drew a walk with two outs to put the tying run on first and bring famed Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne to the plate, but Despaigne went down holding his left pectoral/shoulder area after a swing and miss and had to leave the game. Nineteen-year-old catcher Rafael Viñales replaced Despaigne as a pinch-hitter with a 2-2 count and grounded out to second base to end it.

Carlos Perez went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs and Hernan Perez went 3-for-5 with a triple, a homer and two runs scored to lead Venezuela. Former Dodgers shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena went 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs for Cuba.

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