Caribbean Series 2017: Mexicali shouts “blankety blank” as Puerto Rico blanks Mexico 1-0 in ten innings

February 8, 2017

MLB

By Lewis Rubman

Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico–This has been a series in which no outcome has been a foregone conclusion. Games that started as routs have ended as nail biters. Turn about has been more than just fair play. It’s been the stuff of the games. Think of Puerto Rico’s win over Venezuela in yesterday’s semi-final. Think of Venezuela’s come from behind victory over the Dominican Republic on Sunday. Or of the consecutive reciprocal shuts outs Cuba and Mexico dealt each other on Sunday and Monday. Think of Puerto Rico losing the first three games of the tournament and of Mexico winning its first three encounters. Then think of Puerto Rico defeating Mexico, 1-0 in ten innings to win the 2017 edition of the Carribbean Series. That’s what happened tonight. It seems that the only constant in the last three days has been Puerto Rico winning and Mexico being involved in a shutout

Puerto Rico’s Caguas Criollos showed early on that they were a match for the first seeded host Mexicali Eagles. In their first at bat, the islanders had runners on second and third with one out before Mexico’s starter, right hander Hector Velazquez, owner of a 1-0, 1.80 record for the series, could shut them down.

Some poor, some some sparkling defensive work by Mexicali enlivened the following top half innings. A throwing error by Mexico’s Cuban shortstop, Yuniesky Betancourt, allowed Jonathan Morales to open the third inning by reaching third base. He promptly was thrown out trying to steal. In the fourth frame, C.J. Retherford made a flawless one-handed pick up of Rusney Castillo’s bouncer down the third base line and followed it with a fast and accurate throw to get the speeding Castillo out at first by a fraction of a second. In the next inning, Chris Roberson made a fine running catch at the base of the left-centerfield wall, turning Henry Ramos’s blast into an out. Two batters earlier, Roberson’s late break had allowed Jonathan Modrales’s soft fly ball to fall for a hit in short centerfield.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the sixth when Xorge Carrillo’s hard hit liner eluded diving shortstop Yadiel Rivera’s glove that Mexicali got it first hit off Caguas starter Adelberto Flores. Flores got the next hitter, Ramon Rios, to ground into a double play, 6-4-3, Rivera to Jesmuel Valentin, to Ruben Gotay.

Meanwhile, Velasquez was mowing down Borinquen’s batters, and the game still was a scoreless tie when, just as Flores was finishing up his warm up tosses, the pitcher unexpectedly left the field with an as yet unspecified injury to his hand. Andres Santiago, who came in to relieve Flores, had only a little trouble in his first inning of work, which ended with Roberson stranded on second after a single and a sacrifice bunt. He had an interesting botttom of the eighth, though.

Culiacan native Luis Felipe Juarez hit a ground single to left. Ronnier Mustelier sacrificed him over to second, in the course of which the Creoles showed some nifty defensive coordination, with first baseman Gotay fielding the ball and throwing it to second sacker Valentin, who covere first. After Santiago walked Jesse Castillo, Yordanys LInares, who had been a star centerfield for the Santa Clara Oranges in the Cuban National Series, pinch hit for Carrillo and struck out. On the next play, shortstop Rivera bobbled Rios’s ground ball and then threw the to third. Juarez arrived safely but overslid the bag. He tried to crawl back, and umpire Leonel Garcia ruled that he was safe. The Puerto Rican team appealed the call. The play was reviewed, and Juarez was called out.

The Washington Nationals*s closer, Oliver Perez, acted as Mexicali’s set up man in the top of the ninth, and he set the Creoles down to a conga beat, un, dos, tres.

Miguel Mejia took over for Flores in the bottom of the ninth, facing the top of the order. The only damage he suffered was a single by Betancourt.

Closer Jake Sanchez, who had earned the save in last night’s 1-0 thriller over Cuba, entered the tenth with a chance to gain the win tonight. Instead, he took the loss as Rivera doubled to center, Valentin bunted him over to third, and Morales drove him in with a sacrifce fly to center. Ramos struck out, but the scoreless tie had been broken. It only remained to see if Mexicali could bring off one more surprise.

Mejia continued to pitch for Puerto Rico, and he got Juarez to ground out to short, Mustelier to line out to right, and Castillo to line out to short. Sebastian Valle, whose grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth had crushed Venezuela on Friday, was left on deck.

Wiith the final out, the press box burst into applause, more for the quality of the game than for its outcome.

This was Puerto Rico’s first Caribbean Series championship since 2000, when the Santurce Crabbers took the title. Caguas had not won the crown since 1987. Mexico won last year, but the Aguilas de Mexicali haven’t tasted victory since 1986.

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