In just a few weeks, the World Baseball Classic will begin, with some of the best players from all over the world representing their home countries in a struggle for pride on the international stage. Before then, though, we have the Caribbean Series happening right now, and a few big leaguers are warming up for the WBC hoping to help their team win some Caribbean bragging rights. Fernando Rodney and Hanley Ramirez are at the Caribbean Series as members of the Dominican Replublic squad, and with them serving as lynchpins on a talented squad, the Dominicans have proven to be quite a force in this year’s Series and are the clear favorites to win it all.
Leones de Escogido (Dominican Republic) 6, Criollos de Caguas (Puerto Rico) 2
With a roster littered with current and former major leaguers, opponents have been no match for the Dominican Winter League champion Leones De Escogido, with the Leones outscoring their opponents 13-4 as they have jumped out to a 2-0 record to begin the Caribbean Series. This game was a pitchers’ duel early on with Caguas holding the edge. Both Criollos starter Carlos Alvarado and Escogido starter Edward Valdez had shutouts going through 4 innings, but Escogido broke through against Alvarado in the top of the 5th on a Luis Jimenez double followed by a passed ball and an error. But in the bottom of the inning, Caguas generated a few fireworks versus Valdez as Aaron Bates doubled before Johnny Monell slammed a 2-run homer to give Caguas a 2-1 lead. But in the 6th, Alvarado departed with a runner on 3rd and 1 out and the bullpen could not do the job, allowing a game-tying double Ricardo Nanita. Jordany Valdespin would and score on an error and a wild pitch the following frame, and Donell Linares sealed the game for the Dominicans with a 3-run home run in the 8th. But while the Escogido offense went off in the last few innings, the most impressive part of the game may have been the Leones’ bullpen. Ramon Garcia, Jailen Peguero, Armando Rodriguez, and finally Rays closer Fernando Rodney in a non-save situation finished off the game with 4.1 innings allowing just 1 hit for the only baserunner while striking out 6. Other notables in the game included Miguel Tejada, who went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run scored for Escogido, and Hanley Ramirez, who went 1 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base, and a run scored for the Leones. Escogido improves to 2-0 in the Caribbean Series, now needing merely a split in their next four games in the round-robin tournament to clinch a spot in the championship game.
Navegantes de Magallanes (Venezuela) 4, Yaquis de Obregon (Mexico) 3
Before the Caribbean Series, Magallanes saw its two stars, Pablo Sandoval and Elvis Andrus, elect to leave the team and take some time off before the World Baseball Classic. But it was no stars, no problem for the Navegantes as they came back from a 3-1 deficit after 7 innings to win 4-3. It was a starting pitching matchup of two former big leaguers in this one, with two-time 15-game winner (and two-time 16-game loser) Rodrigo Lopez getting the start for Ovewfon while Ramon Ramirez took the ball for Magallanes. Lopez pitched great, allowing just 1 run on 2 hits in 6 innings, striking out 2 while walking 1, with a Robert Perez home run being his only mistake. Ramirez allowed a Barbaro Canizares RBI single for Obregon’s only run through 6 innings, but Magallanes elected to send him back out for the 7th inning, and that proved disastrous. Ramirez allowed a single, an error, and then an RBI single by ex-big leaguer Karim Garcia to give the Yaquis a 2-1 lead and then reliever Darwin Cubillan could not do his job, allowing a Carlos Valencia RBI single to make it 3-1. But Cubillan then proceeded to strike out the side to strand two runners on base, and that loomed large. Former big leaguer Oscar Villareal entered the game for Obregon in the 8th but could not do the job at all. A Mario Lisson solo homer made it 3-2 before Luis Nunez tied the game on an RBI double, and it was Lisson who emerged the hero as well in the 9th, lacing a walk-off single to end the game as Magallanes won 4-3. Both teams are now 1-1 in the Caribbean, but now Magallanes has some momentum while Obregon has to figure out what happened and recover quickly as each team will play four games over the next four days to determine who will go to the championship game.