02/05/2004 11:59 PM ET
Venezuela ends Dominican streak
Aragua stays alive for title with 5-3 victory
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The heavily favored Licey Tigers of the Dominican Republic have been tip-toeing past their opponents all week, and that tightrope walk has grown more dangerous with each game of the Caribbean Series.
|Venezuela closer Francisco Rodriguez celebrates after striking out the Dominican Republic's Sandy Martinez for the last out of Thursday's game. (Andres Leighton/AP)
On Thursday, the rope snapped, and so did the Dominicans' joyride through the six-game round-robin tournament.
The Venezuelan league champion Aragua Tigers scored four early runs and held on to defeat Licey, 5-3, and stay alive for at least one more day.
Licey, which entered the game with a 4-0 record, dropped to 4-1 while Venezuela improved to 3-2.
Each team (the Dominicans, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico) plays each other twice over the course of six days, and the team with the best record at the end wins. The Dominicans beat Puerto Rico for the title last year.
If Aragua beats the Culiacan Tomato Growers of Mexico on Friday in the sixth and last game of their tournament and Puerto Rico beats the Dominicans, a Saturday tiebreaker will be played as the championship game.
A Friday loss by Venezuela or win by Licey would give the Dominicans their second straight Caribbean Series crown.
"I'm thankful that we don't have to play a game that doesn't mean anything," Venezuela manager Buddy Bailey said. "And as a bonus, we could still be a champion."
Venezuelan slugger Magglio Ordoñez, the Chicago White Sox All-Star, agreed with his skipper.
"We have a chance," Ordoñez said. "If the Dominicans lose and we win, we play for the championship. That's what we want. We played hard tonight and battled. They have a great team and if you make mistakes, they'll make you pay. Tonight we did enough to win."
Aragua seized the momentum right away when Dominican starter Claudio Vargas of the Montreal Expos walked Luis Rodriguez to lead off the game, then gave up consecutive one-out singles to Ordoñez, Miguel Cabrera and Alex Cabrera that put the Venezuelans up, 2-0.
They doubled that advantage and silenced the crowd in the following frame, with the base-on-balls once again being Vargas' undoing.
The right-hander walked Tom Evans and Alex Delgado, and Luis Ordaz's one-out ground ball to third base became an error by Rafael Furcal that loaded the bases.
That set up Ordoñ'ez for a two-run single that made the score 4-0 and quieted Estadio Quisqueya for one of the first times this week.
Venezuelan starter Ricardo Palma, meanwhile, didn't encounter such trouble, keeping the Dominicans off the bases and off the scoreboard through five.
Licey got a clutch relief effort from Manny Aybar, who stopped the bleeding in the second and tossed three more scoreless frames until Aragua added a run in the top of the sixth.
Aybar opened the inning by inducing a quick groundout and strikeout, but an Alex Delgado double and a Luis Rodriguez RBI single later, it was 5-0 in favor of the Venezuelans and Licey manager Manny Acta went to the bullpen again, this time bringing in Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Jorge Sosa.
Licey finally got the bats -- and the crowd -- going in the sixth with four straight hits that led to a three-run inning.
Furcal slapped a one-out single, which was followed by a Miguel Tejada double that pushed Furcal to third. Tejada electrified the crowd by running hard the whole way and diving emphatically into second base to barely beat the tag.
David Ortiz fed off the energy and slammed a ball to the wall in right field for a two-run double.
That got Licey on the board at 5-2, and after Jose Offerman blooped a single off reliever Elio Serrano to center to move Ortiz to third, Izzy Alcantara's sacrifice fly gave the Dominicans their third run.
Venezuela's bullpen did the job, however.
Serrano, Kevin Tolar and Anaheim Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez tag-teamed for scoreless seventh, eighth and ninth innings, with Rodriguez striking out the side in a scoreless ninth for his second straight save.
"You have to give credit to their pitching staff," Acta said. "We had the whole game to score four runs and we couldn't do it. Tolar and Rodriguez were lights-out. That's been the key."
Acta said he still felt confident.
"I'm comfortable," Acta said. "We're in the best position. The only difference is that we're not going to win this thing undefeated.
"But I'm still very optimistic."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.