By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
Cuba’s Agricultores and Puerto Rico’s Indios de Mayaguez took the field at a mostly-empty Estadio La Rinconada, with Puerto Rico clinging to a slim chance of making Thursday’s semifinals at the Caribbean Series.
But Cuba’s pitching couldn’t hold the lead under the pressure of the ninth inning, where three hits and a fielding error enabled Puerto Rico to score twice, giving them a 4-3 win and eliminating Cuba from contention.
Cuba jumped out to an early lead when Yosvani Alarcon cracked an infield single to lead off the bottom of the first for Cuba, and advanced to second on a single by Rafael Vinales. Carlos Benitez followed Vinales with a single of his own that scored Alarcon from second, and then Yordany Alarcon singled, scoring Vinales and making it 2-0 Cuba. Benitez and Vinales advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Alexquemer Sanchez, and then Alexquemer Sanchez hit a sac fly to center that scored Carlos Benitez for a 3-0 lead.
Another single by Yuniesky Larduet ended the day for Puerto Rico starter Daryl Thompson, who went 1.2 innings allowing three runs on six hits. Luis Leroy Cruz relieved Thompson, and went 4.1 innings, allowing three hits and no runs.
Puerto Rico’s bats came alive in the top of the fifth, when Danny Ortiz led off with a double to left field, then scored two batters later when Roby Enriquez tripled to center field. Two batters after Enriquez’ triple, Bryan Torres singled to center, sending Enriquez home and cutting the Cuba lead to 3-2.
Puerto Rico’s Cruz turned the ball over to Braden Webb, who spread three hits over three innings in relief to earn the win.
Cuba threatened in the top of the ninth with two outs when Yovany Alarcon singled and stole second. The next batter, Andres de la Cruz, singled to center field, where Bryan Torres smoothly charged, fielded the ball on one hop and fired to the plate. Astonishingly, Alarcon was sent home, and the throw beat him home by a large margin for the third out of the inning.
Danny Ortiz led off the bottom of the ninth with Puerto Rico down 3-2 and singled to center. Brett Rodriguez came on as a pinch runner for Ortiz and stole second, then advanced to third on Roby Enriquez’ ground out. Brian Navarreto drew a walk to put runners on first and third for Puerto Rico, then was replaced by pinch runner Jeremy Rivera.
The next batter, Bryan Torres, ripped a ground ball at Cuba’s second baseman Carlos Benitez, who dove to his right, but the ball scraped the tip of the webbing of his glove and went all the way to the right field wall, where it lodged under the padding. Both runners scampered home, but after a lengthy conclave by the umpires, Torres was put on second and Rivera was put on third, and the inning continued.
But not for long. After an intentional walk to Andy Vargas to load the bases, Emmanuel Rivera singled to right field, scoring Jeremy Rivera and giving Puerto Rico the win.
Cuba will play Panama at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at La Rinconada. Puerto Rico will play Mexico at 2 p.m. ET at La Rinconada. All games of the 2023 Caribbean Series are streamed via ESPN Deportes and ESPN+.