Curacao Beats Puerto Rico to Advance to Caribbean Series Semifinals

Juan Carlos Sulbaran, the starting pitcher for Curaçao, celebrates the victory after a game between Curazao and Puerto Rico at loanDepot park as part of Series del Caribe 2024 on Feb. 7, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Luis Gutierrez/Norte Photo/Getty Images)

By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network

MIAMI – The Curacao Suns of the Curacao Professional Baseball League beat the 2023-24 Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente of Puerto Rico champion Criollos de Caguas 2-0 and advanced to the semifinals of the 2024 Caribbean Series for the first time in their second year participating at the event. 

Curacao manager Hainley Statia’s pitching staff allowed five hits, no walks, and struck out five during Wednesday’s win at loanDepot Park in Miami. Curacao starter Juan Carlos Sulbaran threw five innings with just 64 pitches and allowed two hits and two strikeouts. 

During the top of the first inning, Curacao left fielder Roger Bernadina led off the game and grounded out to Puerto Rico second baseman Vimael Machin. Bernadina felt discomfort in his lower back and could not run to first efficiently and had to leave the game due to his lower back injury. 

Bernadina told World Baseball Network through WhatsApp that he needed daily treatment for his lower back injury and hopes he can feel better for the semifinals of the 2024 Caribbean Series on Thursday. Edmond Americaan replaced Bernadina in left field during the bottom of the first inning. 

In the top of the fourth inning, Curacao designated hitter Wladimir Balentien started the inning with an infield single to pitcher Daryl Thompson, who fielded the ball from the left side of the infield and could not get the out at first base due to being off-balance while coming off the mound. 

The next batter, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, smacked a double to left field and Balentien advanced to third base with no outs. 

Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina came out from the dugout and called upon relief pitcher Alex Claudio to replace Thompson. Thompson threw three innings, allowed five hits and one earned run during Wednesday’s loss. 

A few batters later, first baseman Juremi Profar lifted a sacrifice fly to Puerto Rico center fielder Bryan Torres and Schoop came in to score to make it 1-0.

Molina went to his bullpen again and called Angel Reyes to replace Claudio in the top of the fourth. Claudio threw .2 innings and walked one batter. 

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Criollos de Caguas right fielder Nelson Velazquez started the inning with a line drive single to left field. A few moments later, Puerto Rico first baseman JC Escarra hit a ground ball single to right field, and Velazquez advanced to third base with one out. Two batters later, Curacao relief pitcher Wendell Floranus got Puerto Rico left fielder Danny Ortiz to ground out to second base for the final out of the bottom of the seventh inning. 

Curacao added another run in the top of the ninth. Juremi Profar hit a fly ball single to right field, and Darren Seferina came off the bench for Curacao to pinch run for Juremi Profar. The next batter, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, laid down a sacrifice bunt towards first base, and relief pitcher Endrys Briceno he threw over to first baseman Escarra, but the throw went past Escarra into foul territory, and Seferina advanced to third and Simmons went to second on the throwing error from Briceno. 

Molina went to his bullpen yet again for Danny Wirchanksy to replace Briceno. Briceno threw .1 inning allowing one hit and one strike out before being pulled. 

Two batters later, Curacao Suns third baseman Didi Gregorius lifted a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Seferina to make it 2-0. 

Statia sent Anthony Herrera to the mound to close out the win, and Herrera retired the Puerto Rico offense 1-2-3, getting Emmanuel Rivera to ground out to Simmons for the final out of the game, sending the Curacao Suns to the 2024 Caribbean Series semifinals. 

Puerto Rico’s pitching staff allowed eight hits, one earned run, three walks, and four strikeouts during Wednesday’s loss. 

Curacao clinched their first trip to the semifinals at the 2024 Caribbean Series with their win on Wednesday, finishing pool play with a 3-3 record. Puerto Rico finished at 3-3 and did not qualify for the semifinals at the 2024 Caribbean Series, eliminated via the Total Quality Balance run differential tiebreaker used by the Confederación de Beisbol Profesional del Caribe. 

The Dominican Republic, Panama, and Venezuela have all qualified for the 2024 Caribbean Series semifinals, which will be played on Thursday at loanDepot Park in Miami. The two semifinal games will be at 3 p.m. EST and 8 p.m. EST and will be televised on ESPN Deportes and ESPN+.

The third place game will be on Feb. 9 at 3 p.m. EST followed by the championship game at 8 p.m. EST. All 2024 Caribbean Series games will be broadcasted on ESPN Deportes and ESPN+ until the final out of the championship game on Feb.9. 

The Curacao Professional Baseball League played from Dec. 3-10, 2023, and is operated by the Federashon Di Beisbol Di Korsou. 

The Curacao Suns beat the Willemstad Cannons in the Curacao Professional Baseball League’s championship game 6-5 on a game-ending double in the bottom of the seventh by Suns’ pinch hitter Shakir Albert. The Curacao Professional Baseball league played seven inning games during its first season of operation and will operate as a full-season league next year, rather than a one-week showcase.

The island nation went 2-5 in their first appearance at the tournament in the 2023 Caribbean Series in Caracas, Venezuela, and finished in seventh place at the eight-team event. Curacao did not have a winter league season during 2022-23.

Curacao is participating in its third club tournament, and did not participate in the 2019 Latin American Series due to financial issues with their 2018-2019 AA League champion the Santa Marta Pirates, who were supposed to play in the event. 

The WildCats KJ74 participated in the 2018 Latin American Series, having won the AA league during the 2017-18 regular season. The WildCats KJ74 went 1-2 in group play at the 2018 Latin American Series and lost to the 2017-18 Tobis de Acayucan of the Liga Invernal Veracruzana of Mexico 9-3 at Dennis Martinez National Stadium in Managua, Nicaragua. 

Curacao has participated in the 2018 Latin American Series and 2023 Caribbean Series in Caracas, Venezuela, prior to the 2024 tournament in Miami. 

Curacao has never won a club tournament in their nation’s history and are two wins away from hoisting the championship trophy down in Miami during their second year at the Caribbean Series.

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