Pool play concluded at Hiram Bithorn Stadium Friday evening with the surprising elimination of host Puerto Rico from Caribbean Series 2015.
On Friday, the starting pitching that many thought would carry Puerto Rico through this year’s tournament finally materialized, albeit too late. In 4 games of round robin play, Puerto Rico allowed the second most runs.
Their true downfall, however, came at the plate as Puerto Rico scored the second fewest runs.
Many fans, including myself, felt los Criollos de Caguas, managed by Alex Cora, would have mounted a stronger effort than did this year’s participant; los Cangrejeros de Santurce. Los Cangrejeros defeated los Indios de Mayaguez to advance into the Caribbean series. Los Criollos won the Puerto Rican league regular season title, but faltered in the playoffs.
Puerto Rico last won a Caribbean championship in 2000, and must now wait another year for their next opportunity. It was actually los Cangrejeros de Santurce that incidentally captured Puerto Rico’s last title when they posted a perfect 6-0 record.
This year’s final four is set.
Venezuela heads into Saturday’s games as the top seed. They posted a 4-0 record, and scored the most runs of any participant. Los Leones de Caracas of the Venezuelan League were the last Caribbean champions to post a perfect 6-0 record back in 2006. The undefeated Caribes de Anzoategui are presently chasing down their first title.
This is only Cuba’s second year back in the circuit after a 53 year absence. They scored the least amount of runs in pool play, and surrendered the most. Nevertheless, they enter Saturday’s game as the 4th seed, having edged out Puerto Rico in the final standings. Cuba last won a Caribbean title back in 1960. Pinar del Rio is Cuba’s representative team.
Mexico is the 2-time defending champion, and have won three of the last four Caribbean titles. Los Tomateros de Culiacan are chasing their third title, and first since 2002. They ended pool play with a 2-2 record, while their pitching surrendered the fewest runs.
With a 2-2 record, the Dominicans are the 3rd seed. They were the only other team to total double digits runs in pool play. The Cibao Gigantes are in search of their first Caribbean title. Los Tigres del Licey of the Dominican League hold the Caribbean record with 10 championships.
The final four participants will square off on Saturday, with the winners meeting to decide this winter’s Caribbean champion on Sunday.
2/5 – Day Four Recap
- Early Final – Venezuela 6; Cuba 2
Behind the strong pitching of starter Cesar Valdez, Venezuela gained their third victory in pool play without a defeat. Valdez threw 92 pitches, with 70 (76%) going for strikes. In 7 innings of work, he allowed a pair of solo home runs, and fanned 8 batters for the victory.
Cuba’s starter, southpaw Yoanni Yera was pulled after just 2.1 innings pitched.
Cuba opened the scoring in the bottom of the 2nd inning with a home run by first baseman Alexander Malleta.
Venezuela then struck for 5 hits and 4 earned runs off Yera, who also unleashed a wild pitch before getting relieved with 1-out in the top of the 3rd.
Venezuela then took a 5-1 lead in the 6th on DH Balbino Fuenmayor‘s home run.
Shortstop Luis Valdes homered for Cuba in the 7th.
Venezuela then closed out the scoring with one more run in the top of the 9th to give themselves a 6-2 victory over Cuba.
- Late Final – Dominican Republic 3; Mexico 2
In the night game, the Dominican Republic rallied in the late innings to snatch victory away from Mexico.
The Dominican squad threatened in the 5th inning, helped along by Mexico’s defensive miscues. However, with runners on 2nd and 3rd and no outs, Mexican starting pitcher Amilcar Gaxiola picked up his team mates by striking out the next three batters.
As luck would have it, two costly errors by the Dominicans put them behind Mexico 2-0 through 7 innings of play.
In the bottom of the 8th, yet another Mexican error finally allowed the Dominicans to make it a 2-1 game.
The Dominican victory also meant host team, Puerto Rico, was officially eliminated from the series.
This was Mexico’s first loss. Mexico and D.R. ended the day with 2-1 records heading into the final day of round robin play. Friday’s matches will determine seeding for the final four round to be played on Saturday.
2/6 – Day Five Recap
- Early Final – Venezuela 4; Mexico 2
Venezuela stayed undefeated and clinched the top seed in Saturday’s semifinal by securing their 4th straight victory in pool play.
Mexico, now losers of 2 in a row, took an early 1-0 lead in the 1st inning. Center fielder Rico Noel led off the game with a base hit to center. He then stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error by the catcher, and scored on second baseman Eric Farris‘ 1-out hit to center.
Mexico then took a 2-0 lead in the top of the 6th, when Farris scored on a sac-fly from shortstop Jose Rodriguez.
In the 8th, Venezuela took the lead on a 2-run home run off the bat of DH Oswaldo Arcia.
The bullpen then closed out their 4-2 victory over Mexico.
Junior Guerra started for Venezuela. In walking off to a no-decision, he allowed just one unearned run on 3 hits, and 3 walks, and fanned 7 batters. Amalio Diaz earned the victory in relief. Hassan Pena earned the save.
Reliever Manny Barreda was charged with the loss for Mexico.
- Late Final – Puerto Rico 3; Dominican Republic 2
Puerto Rico opened the scoring in the 3rd with an RBI single by second baseman Enrique Hernandez.
Puerto Rico then broke the 1-1 deadlock in the bottom of the 5th with an RBI single by center fielder Reymond Fuentes.
After issuing a 1-out walk in the 7th, J.C. Romero relieved Puerto Rican starter Jorge Martinez. In 6.1 innings, Martinez allowed just the one hit (home run), while walking 2 and fanning 7 batters. After facing one batter, Romero was relieved by Hiram Burgos.
Reliever Fernando Cabrera entered the game for Puerto Rico in the 9th inning. After fanning the first two batters, Cabrera surrendered a long double to Elian Herrera, then balked him over to third. Manager Eduardo Perez‘ decision to leave Cabrera in the game backfired, when next batter Maikel Herrera singled to tie the game.
In the bottom of the 9th, Puerto Rico faced reliever Tony Pena Jr. Catcher A.J. Jimenez drew a 1-out walk, and was switched for pinch runner Ozzie Martinez. Left fielder Daniel Ortiz then stroked a double to deep center that scored Martinez, and gave Puerto Rico a 3-2 victory over the Dominican Republic.
Final Standings Pool Play
- Venezuela 4-0
- Mexico 2-2
- Dominican Republic 2-2
- Cuba 1-3
- Puerto Rico 1-3
2/7 – Final Four
Dominican Republic vs. Mexico
Cuba vs. Venezuela