MAZATLAN, Mexico -- If ever there was a sign that Mexico was meant to continue its march to a Caribbean Series title and the Dominican Republic was destined to continue its slide to a disappointing finish, it came in the bottom of the sixth inning of Thursday night's game between the two teams, an important 7-1 victory for the Mazatlan Venados.
The Dominican's Aguilas had runners on first and second with no one out, trying to climb back into the game. Mexico's starter Pablo Ortega uncorked a wild pitch that appeared to scoot all the way to the backstop. But when Padres catcher Miguel Ojeda turned to retrieve the ball, it was nowhere to be found. The Dominican runners were thus allowed just one base and Ortega was able to eventually get out of the inning unscathed.
Aside from this new wrinkle on the hidden ball trick, Mexico used three hits from second baseman Miguel Flores, some shoddy defense from the Dominican Republic and Ortega's remarkable ability to pitch out of trouble to improve to a perfect 3-0.
"The goal here is to win a championship," Flores said. "Things are going our way right now. We have a veteran team, but the other three teams are very powerful. Somebody has to win. I'm glad it's been us."
The win put the Venados one game ahead of Venezuela, with the two teams set to battle on Friday night. The Dominican Republic, thought by many to be the favorites heading into the Caribbean Series, are now 0-2.
Mexico scored three times in its first time at-bat behind just one hit and some sloppy play by the Dominicans. Trenidad Hubbard got plunked by Julian Tavarez, the Cardinal reliever who's been starting this winter, to lead off the game. Miguel Flores doubled Hubbard home for the first run of the game. Flores came home after Dominican third baseman Ronnie Belliard fielded the Nationals' Vinny Castilla's grounder and promptly threw it over the first baseman's head.
After Tavarez picked up a couple of strikeouts, his defense let him down again. Miguel Ojeda's grounder went right under the Braves' Rafael Furcal's glove to allow Castilla to score and give Mexico a 3-0 lead.
The Aguilas did answer back in the bottom of the first, when Furcal tried to make amends my leading off with a triple and scoring on Luis Polonia's groundout. But the vaunted lineup couldn't get much else going against Mexican League veteran Pablo Ortega. And when they did, he showed tremendous skill as an escape artist. Ortega pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third inning and duplicated the feat three innings later.
Ortega seemed to be on his last legs in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a hit and two walks to fill the bases. But the right-hander got the Nationals' Matt Cepicky to hit a comebacker that turned into a 1-2-3 double play, then enticed a grounder to short from the Giants' Pedro Feliz to escape once again. Ortega went eight innings, scattering six hits and walking three before giving way to reliever Jose Luis Garcia in the ninth. Ortega recorded 15 ground-ball outs on the night.
Mexico gave Ortega more run support in the fifth. After Hubbard walked and moved to second on a balk, Flores doubled again to score Hubbard. Castilla went the other way for an RBI single to give the Venados a 4-1 lead. That ended Tavarez's night.
Furcal gave Mexico some more help in the sixth. With two outs, Flores singled for his third hit of the game. Castilla was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second. Then the A's Erubiel Durazo hit what should have been an inning-ending grounder to second, but it went under Furcal's glove again to allow Castilla to score Mexico's sixth run.
Jonny Gomes hit his second monstrous homer in as many nights to add insult to injury, giving Mexico a 7-1 lead.
"I'm very happy and proud to be part of a team that doesn't depend only on one person," Mazatlan manager Juan Jose Pacho said. "They all contribute and they all produce. This is a team and the team deserves the credit."
Things have not gone well for the Dominican Republic so far in this Series, beginning with its delayed arrival, followed by two rather flat performances. The Aguilas will try to begin the arduous task of climbing out of their hole when they meet Puerto Rico in a battle of winless teams.
"There's a lot of baseball left, but we have to play better than we have to have a chance," Aguilas manager Felix Fermin said. "I think you'll see the team that got us here."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.