By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
What the home crowd hoped would be a triumphant victor of a Caribbean Series champion on their brand new field ended up being a duel among near equals in which Venezuela came out on the wrong side.
Despite a struggling starter who may have sustained an injury but stayed in the game, Venezuela’s Leones de Caracas held the Dominican Republic’s Tigres del Licey to just two runs. Unfortunately, Venezuela wasn’t able to score any of their own, as Dominican starting pitcher Cesar Valdez shut them down for 6.2 innings before leaving with an arm injury, but giving a dominant performance that powered the D.R.’s 3-0 victory.
The win secured the 11th title for Tigres del Licey at the Caribbean Series and the 22nd for the Dominican Republic and denied Venezuela its first Caribbean Series title since 2009.
For Valdez, the pitcher of the year in the LIDOM, the performance in the clincher was the culmination of a career that has taken him all over the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean over 17 seasons, including stints with five different MLB clubs.
Henry Urrutia drew a walk to lead off the top of the second, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. He got to third on Mel Rojas, Jr.’s single to right, bringing up Kelvin Gutierrez. Gutierrez hit a deep fly to right that allowed Urrutia to tag and score for a 1-0 Dominican Republic lead.
In the top of the third, Robinson Cano came to the plate with Emilio Bonifacio on first with no outs. Cano’s comebacker hit the pitcher Leal, who got the ball to second to turn the double play as he collapsed to the mound in pain, clutching his chest. Leal laid on the dirt while being attended to by Venezuela athletic trainer Alexis Lugo for several minutes. Leal regained his feet to the cheers of the Caracas crowd and got Yamaico Navarro to line out to left to end the inning.
In the top of the fourth, Mel Rojas, Jr. tried to score from second on Michael de la Cruz’ single to shallow left. Venezuela left fielder Danry Vasquez scooped the ball off the turf cleanly and fired to the plate, where Wilson Ramos applied the tag, and after video review, Rojas was ruled out.
An inning later, with Gustavo Nunez on third and Robinson Cano on first with one out, Yamaico Navarro ripped a long, soaring single off the top of the right field wall, scoring Nunez for a 2-0 lead and advancing Cano to third. Navarro tried to get to second, but the throw from left field beat him by three steps. To compensate, Navarro made an awkward slide to try to get around Venezuela shortstop Orlando Arcia, only to come up lame and need help getting off the field.
The run scored by Nunez ended the night for Leal, who went 4.2 innings, allowing seven hits, two runs, walking two and striking out one.
Meanwhile, Valdez just kept retiring Venezuela’s hitters, allowing three hits and no walks over 6.1 innings and striking out six. So dominant was the Dominican pitching that Venezuela didn’t get a runner to second base after Hernan Perez visited the top of the diamond in the bottom of the second. After Valdez left with an arm injury, Jonathan Aro finished out the seventh. Fernando Abad came on for the eighth, issuing a one-out walk to Orlando Arcia but otherwise avoiding trouble.
With Luis Barrera on second, the Dominican Republic added a run in the top of the ninth when Gustavo Nunez hit a hard ground ball to short and Venezuela shortstop Hernan Perez launched his throw to first into the dugout, allowing Barrera to scoot home for a 3-0 lead.
Jairo Asencio came on to pitch the bottom half of the ninth for the Dominican Republic, and retired the side in order, getting Hernan Perez to ground out to third for the final out, clearing the visiting dugout of jubilant players while Perez walked back to the dugout alone to join his dejected teammates.