MAZATLAN, Mexico -- Venezuela wanted to come out quickly against Puerto Rico on Thursday afternoon to be sure to build on the momentum from Wednesday's stirring upset over the Dominican Republic.
The Tigres de Aragua did just that, sending nine men to the plate and scoring three runs in the first inning before holding off a rally for the second straight day to beat Puerto Rico's Indios de Mayaguez, 6-5.
With Mexico's win in the nightcap, Venezuela will try to tie things up with Mexico's Mazatlan Venados in a huge game on Friday night.
"We're getting used to the field and starting to feel comfortable," said Cubs outfielder Rene Reyes, who homered and had a run-scoring single for Venezuela. "I think that shows."
Venezuela began showing how comfortable it is almost immediately. Padres catcher Ramon Hernandez, playing first base for Venezuela, singled in Reyes and one-time Diamondback Alex Cabrera to give the Tigres a 2-0 lead with two outs. Twins outfield prospect Alex Romero then singled in Luis Landaeta to make it 3-0.
Former big leaguer Omar Olivares started for Puerto Rico (0-2), but did not get out of the first inning, being replaced by the Marlins' Lance Davis after Romero's single.
"This team has to execute," Puerto Rico's manager Mako Olivares said. "The starting pitching has not been there."
Venezuela added a single run in the second when Reyes took Davis deep into the left field seats to make it 4-0. Puerto Rico (0-2) halved that lead in the third on a Randy Ruiz (just signed by the Cardinals) RBI double and a sacrifice fly by former Marlins catcher Ramon Castro.
Castro's throwing error in the fourth helped open the door to two more Venezuela runs. Alex Delgado (Brewers system) and the Pirates' Jose Castillo scored on Luis Rodriguez's sacrifice fly and a Reyes single to make it 6-2. Both had moved up a base when Castro's attempt to pick Delgado off of second skipped into center field.
Puerto Rico climbed back into the game with a two-run fifth that chased Venezuela starter Carlos Pulido. The Twins veteran lefty walked leadoff hitter Andres Torres, who came around to score on Diamondbacks shortstop Alex Cintron's ground-rule double. Denny Medina, a Twins minor leaguer who hasn't pitched above the Appalachian League, came in with runners on second and third and allowed a single by Lou Lucca to make the score 6-4. Medina also struck out the side to prevent further damage.
Medina struck out two more in the sixth (along with a walk and a wild pitch) to give him 11 strikeouts in 4 1/3 Caribbean Series innings.
Venezuela manager Buddy Bailey had to go deep into his bullpen for a second straight game, bringing closer Butto Francisco into the game in the eighth to prevent Puerto Rico from tying the score. As a result, Francisco will not be available for Friday's game against Mexico.
"[Friday's] a big game and our bullpen is all out of whack," Bailey said. "We're a little behind the eight ball because our starting pitcher didn't give us what we needed. We'll need to score a lot of runs to cover our pitching."
It's still a position Bailey doesn't mind being in. Being 2-1 with a chance to tie the Series on Friday is not something Bailey thought possible with his young, inexperienced roster.
"When we came here, I thought we could win one game and be lucky to win two," said Bailey, who is without established big leaguers like Miguel Cabrera and Bob Abreu. "I hope I wasn't right.
"I think [Wednesday] had an effect. We went in thinking, 'Hey, let's win a ballgame' and we did it again on [Thursday]."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.