Jose Wilfredo Tovar of Tiburones de La Guaira of Venezuela celebrates scoring a run in the sixth inning during a game between Panama and Venezuela as part of Serie del Caribe 2024 at loanDepot park on February 6, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Luis Gutierrez/Norte Photo/Getty Images)
By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
MIAMI – It was not a promising start for the Tiburones de La Guaira of Venezuela, who became the first team in the 2024 Caribbean Series to knock off the previously undefeated Federales de Chiriqui of Panama 5-4 on Tuesday night.
Panama jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first on back-to-back home runs from Allen Cordoba and St. Louis Cardinals prospect Ivan Herrera, but Venezuela rallied back to win 5-4 and improve to 4-1 at the Caribbean Series.
With the loss, Panama is 4-1, but both Panama and Venezuela will play in Thursday’s semifinals, and Puerto Rico, Curacao, and the Dominican Republic will battle for the final two berths in the semifinals on Wednesday.
Both dingers landed over the left field wall in the Venezuela bullpen before starter Ariel Miranda settled down and retired the last two hitters to end the inning.
Venezuela was on the board in the bottom of the second on an RBI double from Hernan Perez to cut Panama’s lead to 2-1. A few batters later, Yasiel Puig was thrown out at home plate attempting to score from third on a shallow fly ball hit to Panama right fielder Luis Tello. Puig has always been an aggressive baserunner, so it was no surprise he was off and running.
With runners on first and third, Panama catcher Christian Bethancourt beat out a potential inning-ending double play to put Panama ahead 3-1 in the top of the third.
Venezuela manager Ozzie Guillen pulled the plug on starter Ariel Miranda after just 2.1 innings. Miranda allowed three earned runs, including the two home runs in the first.
Venezuela threatened to score in the bottom of the fifth but failed to do so. With runners on first, second, and one out, Alcides Escobar bounced into a 6-4-3 double play. Escobar appeared safe at first base and argued with the umpire, but the call was not reversed, and Venezuela did not challenge the play.
Hernan Perez was once again the hero for Venezuela in the bottom of the sixth, hitting a bases-clearing bloop double down the right-field line to put Venezuela ahead 4-3. Three Panama fielders converged towards the foul line, but none were able to make the catch.
The roar from the predominantly Venezuelan crowd of 8,761 may have been the loudest thus far at the 2024 Caribbean Series.
In the sixth, Panama starting pitcher Adan Frias was replaced by reliever Abdiel Saldana. Frias finished the night with three earned runs and six walks in 5.2 innings.
Venezuela extended the lead to two in the bottom of the seventh on a solo home run from Alcides Escobar, who did not have a home run in 39 games with the Tiburones de La Guaira during the LVBP regular season. The home run ball barely left the yard, hitting the top of the wall and bouncing over.
Panama cut Venezuela’s lead to 5-4 in the top of the ninth. Unfortunately for Panama, the run was scored on a 6-4-3 double play hit by left fielder Edgar Munoz. Venezuela closer Arnaldo Hernandez struck out Allen Córdoba, swinging to earn the save and end the game.
Venezuela (4-1) will face Nicaragua (0-5) at 8:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Feb. 7. Panama (4-1) will face the Dominican Republic (3-2) at 3:30 p.m. EST, also on Wednesday.
All 2024 Caribbean Series games will be televised on ESPN Deportes and ESPN+ until the final out of the championship game on Friday, Feb. 9.