Winter League Update: Mexico Outlasts Dominican Republic in 18-Inning Classic to Win Championship
By Robbie Knopf
That was something missing from the Caribbean Series. There were 6 games in a round-robin format between the 4 teams, and the team with the best record after those 6 games was declared champion. But a few years ago, a team from the Dominican Republic won its first 4 games to clinch the title and it didn’t even matter that they lost their final two games. It was far from the only case of an anticlimactic finish in the Series, and the organizers of the event decided to do something. They added a 7th game- in more ways than one- between the teams with the two best records in the round-robin, and they got exactly what they were looking for in the first edition of that championship game.
Caribbean Series Championship Game: Yaquis de Obregon (Mexico) vs. Leones de Escogido (Dominican Republic)
It seemed all game like the Yaquis were the team of destiny in this game. But every time it looked like Obregon had pulled away, the Leones came back and showed everyone just how good they are. Escogido took the early lead in the 3rd inning when Abraham Almonte doubled, advanced to 3rd on an error by Obregon starter Rodrigo Lopez, and scored on a groundball. But 2 innings later, the Yaquis finally got to Leones starter Angel Castro, scoring a run in a similar fashion as Escogido when Barbaro Canizares doubled, was bunted to 3rd, and scored on a groundball and then taking the lead when Jordany Valdespin, an infielder out-of-position in right field, could not handle a line drive hit right at him, allowing Obregon to take a 2-1 lead. That would be all the starters would allow. Lopez went 7.2 innings allowing just an unearned run on 6 hits, striking out 2 and walking 2 as well but managing a 12-5 groundout to flyout ratio. Castro was nearly as good, going 7.2 innings giving up just 2 runs, 1 earned, on only 2 hits, striking out 7 while walking 3 and managing an 8-4 groundout to flyout ratio. After Jose Cobos for Obregon and Ramon Garcia for Escogido recorded the final outs of the 8th, the game headed to the 9th with the Yaquis up just a run.
Escogido pitchers had a rocky 9th, using three pitchers, but Fernando Rodney came in to get an inning-ending groundout and strand a couple of runners to keep the Leones down by only one run. Moments later, that would prove huge. Caribbean Series veteran Ricardo Nanita slammed a game-tying home run off Luis Ayala, and suddenly the game was going into extra innings. The game turned into a battle of the bullpen, and both teams’ relief corps were ready to live up to the task. Over the next 4 innings, Escogido got great pitching from Fernando Rodney, who struck out 4 while allowing just 2 hits in 2 innings, and then Tony Pena and Jailen Peguero behind him, while Obregon burned 7 pitchers but were able to keep the Leones off the board. But in the 14th, but it was another veteran player who came up huge when it mattered most as Karim Garcia took Peguero deep for a solo home run, and suddenly the Yaquis were 3 outs away from a championship once again. But Escogido refused to go down. With 2 outs and runners on the corners, yet another veteran, Miguel Tejada, delivered a game-tying RBI single and the game just kept going. Finally in the 18th inning, former major leaguer Doug Clark slammed a solo home run, and Marco Carrillo finished off his 4th shutout frame in the bottom of the inning to nail down the championship for Obregon as the Yaquis won the game 4-3.
The Leones were the better team in the round-robin, going 5-1 compared to Obregon’s 3-3 mark, and even in this game. In this contest, they held Obregon to just 6 hits in 18 innings, striking out an unbelievable 22 while walking 7. But it was Obregon who always stepped up with everything on the line, allowing 16 hits and managing just an 11-10 strikeout to walk ratio, but holding the Leones to just a 1-for-12 mark with runners in scoring position (the Tejada single was the only hit) and stranding 21 in the game. Anything can happen in one game- and by seizing every opportunity they got, the Yaquis found a way to come through with an improbable victory and deliver their home fans a championship and a story that will be remembered in Mexico for a very long time.