Venezuela Clinches Caribbean Series

Puerto Rico snaps losing streak

MEXICALI, Mexico—Venezuela clinched the 2009 Caribbean Series championship tonight with a 5-3 win over host Mexico before an overflow crowd at Mexcali's Estadio Casa GEO. Venezuela is undefeated after five games, with one game remaining, while Mexico's record stands at 3-2.

"We won ... is that good?" said excited Venezuelan manager Buddy Bailey to the media in the postgame press conference. He then credited the victory to the heart of the players and the superb performances by his bullpen.

Mexico scored first with a single run in the bottom of the first on an RBI single by Adrian Gonzalez, who, along with his brother Edgar, has been the hitting star for Mexico. Venezuela came back with two runs in the top of the second on run-scoring singles by Raul Chavez and Rodney Medina.

Venezuela held the lead until the fifth inning when Adrian Gonzalez's RBI single just beyond the glove of the second baseman Ramon Castro scored Heber Gomez, who had doubled to right field on a ball almost nearly caught by Venezuelan outfielder Jackson Melian.

With just one out and the go-ahead run at third base, Mexico was threatening to regain the lead. Venezuelan reliever Orber Moreno stepped up and retired the next two batters to get out of the inning. Venezuela's effective pitching in this game was the key, just as it's been throughout the series. Bailey cited his staff's ability to contain the damage in the fifth inning, preventing Mexico from taking the lead, as one of the key points in the game.

Venezuela took the lead for good in the top of the seventh on Selwyn Langaigne's ground out to first, scoring Luis Maza and advancing Melian to second base. Wilson Ramos was intentionally walked. With two outs, Luis Ugeuto stroked a sharp liner to left field, scoring Maza.  Chavez followed with another RBI single, his third hit of the game, to give Venezuela a 5-2 lead.

Mexico threatened in the bottom of the ninth, scoring one run and bringing the tying run to the plate with Adrian Gonzalez on deck. But Venezuela's closer, Francisco Butto, retired Christian Quintero to center field to nail down the championship. It was the first Series championship for the Tigres of Aragua, who earned the right to represent Venezuela after defeating the Leones of Caracas in a seven-game series.

Butto, a minor league free agent who pitched last season in the Mexican League, set a Caribbean Series record with his fourth save in this series as well as the record for most career saves. Moreno, who was the second of four relievers after starter Erick Arteaga, was the winning pitcher for Venezuela. Oscar Bustillos took the loss for Mexico.

Bailey's strategy was to utilize his deep bullpen during the series, usually limiting his pitchers to 30-35 pitches each. He said after the game that he didn't want the Gonzalez brothers to see the same pitcher twice in the final game, which was made easier with the two batting back to back.

• Puerto Rico won its first 2009 Caribbean Series game, snapping an 11-game losing streak, by defeating the Dominican Republic, 3-0, in the afternoon game. The two teams had combined for just one victory coming into today, and the atmosphere in the stadium reflected the lack of enthusiasm for the game.

Even the Dominican fans were uncharacteristically quiet, especially after Puerto Rico jumped to an early lead on Jesus Feliciano's lead-off home run. It was the only run that Puerto Rico would need for their first win since returning to the Series after a one-year absence. Andy Gonzalez also hit a solo shot for the winners.

Josue Matos pitched five scoreless innings for the win. The Dominican team was unable to take advantage of Matos' six walks, stranding a game total of 10 runners. Detroit prospect Josh Rainwater was equally strong for Puerto Rico with three scoreless innings. Ivan Maldonaldo came on with two outs in the 9th inning to pick up the save. Julio Mateo yielded all three of the Puerto Rico runs for the loss.

• Eduardo Perez, former big leaguer and ESPN Baseball Tonight broadcaster, is managing the Puerto Rican team in the Caribbean Series. It's appropriate that Perez have this honor as he was one of the main advocates for the return of winter league ball after a one-year hiatus.

To fill the void last winter, Perez created the Winter Training Program for professional and amateur players on the island. He's cautiously optimistic that winter baseball in Puerto Rico is back to stay.

"I feel very good about the future of winter ball in Puerto Rico," said Perez. "The future really depends on how well the league will treat its players … the big leaguers and young players also. It's a matter of respect; it's a matter of honor of going out there and playing the game the right way."

Perez, who took over as Ponce's manager just one day before the start of the season, is pleased with his first managing experience.

"Our team has a lot of pride out here; they really believe in themselves," said Perez. "We're going to play and we're going to represent Puerto Rico the best we can. One thing I like about being here is getting on the plane as representatives of Puerto Rico … that's a big honor."

• Mexicali has proven to be an excellent host for this year's Caribbean Series, at least from this perspective. The event has been well-organized with a minimum of red tape. When bureaucratic snafus set in, like when I was trying to get my media credential on my first day here, there are helpful volunteers ready to step in and assist.

My initial frustrating experience in trying to find the credential pickup area was quickly cleared up by a volunteer named Ana.  This delightful young woman not only made a call to find out where to get the credentials, but she also confirmed that mine was there and, seeing that I was already exhausted from walking around the stadium, found a seat and a bottle of water for me while she went to the area outside the stadium to pick up my credential. It's this attention to detail that has proven the Mexicali government and its baseball organization worthy hosts for the event.