Batista paces Dominicans to win
Jays hurler allows one run over 6 1/3 strong innings
MAZATLAN, Mexico -- Evidently, the morning agrees with the Dominican Republic.
A noon ET start to the unusual Caribbean Series quadrupleheader on Sunday didn't seem to faze the Aguilas, who beat Venezuela, 5-1, behind Blue Jays pitcher Miguel Batista's strong start.
Batista went 6 1/3 innings, allowing just four hits and one run while striking out seven. Former big leaguer Luis Polonia had four hits, drove in the first run of the game and scored another for the Dominican Republic.
The victory kept the Aguilas' hopes alive, moving their record to 2-2. Venezuela fell to 3-2. Venezuela's second game of the day was against Puerto Rico, while the Dominican Republic was scheduled to play the last game of the night against Mexico.
"I guess you win until you lose," Aguilas and Nationals outfielder Matt Cepicky said. "I've never played this early in the morning before."
The morning win increased the possibility of a three-way tie among Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. If Mexico and Venezuela beat Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon and then the Dominican Republic beats Mexico in the nightcap and follow with a victory over Puerto Rico in the makeup game on Monday morning, all three teams will be 4-2, a scenario event organizers would likely not welcome.
Neither team mounted much in the way of real scoring threats until the fifth inning. The Aguilas put a runner on third an inning later, this time with one out, when an errant pickoff attempt allowed Alex Fernandez (Padres) to go from first to third. After Alberto Castillo (Royals) walked, Horacio Estrada looked like he may work out of it when he struck out Padres prospect Bernie Castro. But center fielder Rene Reyes couldn't quite hold onto Polonia's bloop in a diving attempt, allowing Fernandez to score and give the Dominican a 1-0 lead. Estrada, who last pitched with the Twins, struck out the Giants' Pedro Feliz with the bases loaded after intentionally walking Miguel Tejada to end the threat.
The Aguilas added their second run with one out in the sixth on Indians second baseman Ronnie Belliard's home run to center field. A Fernandez double one out later knocked Estrada out of the game. Reliever Denny Medina allowed a double to Castillo to score Fernandez, closing out Estrada's line at 5 2/3 IP, six hits, three runs, one walk and six strikeouts.
The Tigres de Aragua didn't have any success against Batista until the seventh inning. Pitching entirely from the stretch, something he likely got comfortable doing coming out of the bullpen for the Blue Jays last year, Batista retired 10 in a row at one point. But he tired in the seventh, allowing a leadoff double to the Cubs' Reyes and an RBI single to Luis Landaeta. When Ramon Hernandez followed that with a single, Dominican manager Felix Fermin went to his bullpen, bringing in the White Sox's Arnaldo Munoz to replace Batista. Munoz struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
"That was awesome," Cepicky said about Batista's performance. "We needed that big time. He saved our bullpen for tonight."
Venezuela was hamstrung somewhat when Ramon Castro and Jorge Velandia were not able to start due to some nagging injuries. As a result, manager Buddy Bailey had to juggle the lineup, putting Reyes in center field, Castillo at shortstop and Michael Sandoval at third. Both Reyes and Sandoval had some difficulties in the field that led to Dominican runs.
"We were playing with 11 [position players]," Bailey explained.
Venezuela came about a foot away from tying the score in the eighth. After Castillo's one-out single and a Luis Rodriguez strikeout, Reyes lined a double off the left-field wall that barely missed leaving the yard. Instead, the Tigres had runners on second and third. Alex Cabrera was walked intentionally and Munoz struck out Landaeta to get out of the jam.
The Aguilas added a pair of insurance runs in the ninth, one scoring on a fielding error by Venezuelan third baseman Michael Sandoval and another coming home on a Feliz double.
Venezuela tried to mount one last comeback in its last at-bat, putting runners on first and second with one out, but Alex Delgado flied out to the warning track in left and Jose Vargas struck out Castillo to end the game.
Both teams headed back to their hotels to get some rest before having to come back for their second games of the day.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.