The Caribbean Series opened Monday at the Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
This year's event features winter-league champions from the Dominican Republic (Leones del Escogido), Mexico (Venados de Mazatlan), Puerto Rico (Cangrejeros de Santurce) and Venezuela (Tigres de Aragua), with Cuba's Ciego de Avila representing as the Serie Nacional champions.
This year, the event will feature a round robin, with the teams facing off against one another once, followed by a pair of semifinal games that will determine which squads play in the championship game Sunday.
Here is a look at the opening action.
Venezuela 2, Puerto Rico 1
Jose Martinez’s two-run triple in the bottom of the second inning, coupled with Freddy Garcia’s strong outing, propelled Venezuela to a 2-1 win over Puerto Rico on Monday.
Garcia, who pitched 15 years in MLB, allowed just one run—a sacrifice fly from Neftali Soto in the top of the first—and then cruised through five scoreless innings, finishing with five strikeouts while walking one batter and allowing four hits.
Reliever Alexis Candelario allowed another hit by Soto—a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer—in the ninth, but T.J. Rivera ended the game by grounding into a 4-6-3 double play.
Puerto Rico, despite a rich tradition with 14 Caribbean Series titles as one of the Latin American powerhouses in its heyday, is now the underdog.
This year’s squad is represented by the Cangrejeros de Santurce, which was the last Puerto Rican team to win the Caribbean Series—doing so in 2000 at the site of this year’s event.
Despite falling into an 0-1 hole early, Puerto Rico can still bounce back and compete for the title. The round-robin structure will eliminate only one of the five teams before the semifinals. From there, each team will control its own destiny. Puerto Rico will continue play Wednesday against Cuba.
Venezuela already has a leg up but will take on the tournament favorite and host, the Dominican Republic, on Tuesday. Anchored by manager Eddie Perez, the Atlanta Braves' bullpen coach, Venezuela’s Tigres de Aragua won their first league title last week against the favored Navegantes del Magallanes to secure a spot in the Caribbean Series.
Yet they lost a few key contributors afterward, as some players were natives of Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and all Caribbean Series players are required to represent their own country.
Venezuela is also missing native major leaguers Eduardo Escobar, Edgar Ibarra, Jorge Rondon and Alberto Callaspo, who helped the team win the title last week. But Perez brought in Braves third baseman Adonis Garcia to help solidify the lineup, and he went 1-for-4 on Monday.
The team made its first statement with a win Monday but will learn where it stands after battling the Dominican Republic on Tuesday.
Mexico 3, Dominican Republic 2
Three costly errors that yielded two runs were too much for the Dominican Republic to overcome, as it fell 3-2 to Mexico in the second game of Monday’s Caribbean Series doubleheader.
The game-determining play came at the top of the fifth inning when Dominican second baseman Leury Garcia overthrew first base on an attempted double play that allowed Justin Greene to score. Greene led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on an ensuing base hit by Chris Roberson, then scored from second on the error.
The blunder erased Garcia’s game-tying inside-the-park home run in the third on a line drive to the right-center gap that brought the score to 2-2 in thrilling fashion, as shown by ESPN:
Mexico got on the board first in the second inning when Cyle Hankerd scored on a throwing error by Dominican pitcher Greg Reynolds, who was credited with the loss after going four innings with three runs allowed (two earned) on five hits with a pair of walks and no strikeouts.
Greene also scored on a heads-up play in the third inning after waiting for the play to develop, surging home when third baseman Pedro Ciriaco threw to Garcia at second to get the second out of the inning.
Mexico got five decent innings from winning pitcher Hector Daniel Rodriguez, who allowed only the two earned runs on Garcia’s inside-the-park homer, with an additional four hits, a walk and four strikeouts.
Relievers Terance Marin, Jake Sanchez and Steven Hensley allowed a combined one hit the rest of the way, with Hensley picking up the save.
The win gives Mexico a big boost as it heads into Tuesday’s tilt with defending champion Cuba already atop the standings with the favored Dominicans behind it on the schedule.
The Dominican Republic will look to avoid falling in a gaping 0-2 hole on Tuesday against Venezuela. Another loss this early could be quite costly and would likely mean it would need to win out to reach the semifinal.