Mexico repeats as Caribbean Series champ
Roberson claims MVP, homers to ignite offense in six-run sixth inning
ISLA DE MARGARITA, Venezuela -- Chris Roberson punched his glove, jogged 15 feet toward second base from his spot in center field and leaped into the air.
He pointed to the sky and smiled.
Then came the high-fives, first from his Mexico teammates, then from the club's mascot and later from the officials for the Caribbean Confederation on a stage with fireworks lighting up the sky at Nueva Esparta Stadium.
Roberson and the Naranjeros de Hermosillo defeated Puerto Rico's Indios de Mayaguez, 7-1, to win the Caribbean Series title on Saturday night, and the veteran outfielder was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. A team from Mexico has now won the Caribbean Series championship two years in a row and three times in the past four years.
"I've just been really fortunate to get a few rings. I've had six rings in the last eight years, when you include Mexican League and independent ball," said Roberson, 34, who hit .370 with two home runs and six RBIs. "This is a big league environment, and these teams bring their best every time out. Shoot, everything just worked out for us now, and we hope to keep chipping away and get more titles."
Overall, Mexico has won eight Caribbean Series titles since it began participating in the annual tournament in 1970.
"This was a great tournament with a lot of strong teams that somebody had to win, and we are happy it was us," said Mexico manager Matias Carrillo. "It was a tight game, and we are really excited to be champions. I'm really happy for the guys. They played hard."
Roberson's sixth-inning home run broke a scoreless tie to set the stage for an inning that would change the game. It also secured his name the annals of Mexican baseball.
An excited Roberson giggled during interviews with English and Spanish media, and it's hard to blame him for being overjoyed.
He's already come a long way.
Roberson was selected by the Phillies in the ninth round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft and spent seven years in the organization. He played in 85 big league games for Philadelphia in 2006-07 but was traded to Baltimore for cash before the 2008 season.
Roberson, then 28, had his eyes on the starting center-field job with his new team.
The Orioles had other plans, trading Erik Bedard to Seattle for a package that included center fielder Adam Jones. The rest is history. Jones would go on to become one of the faces of the franchise for Baltimore. Roberson spent the season at Triple-A and never made it back to the big leagues.
"They put Adam and me in camp together, and I was cool about it," Roberson said. "I know how baseball is, and sometimes things don't go your way ... but I didn't get mad or take it the wrong way. You can't. We still talk today."
The situation didn't get much better for Roberson after signing with the D-backs in 2009.
"[Justin] Upton and [Chris] Young were there, and they weren't sure what they were going to do with [Eric] Byrnes because he blew out both of his hamstrings," Roberson said. "They were on the bubble with Byrnes and he strung it out until the end of the season, and he decided to retire. I'm like, 'Man, I could have been playing in the big leagues the entire season.'"
Roberson began playing in Mexico the next year, and he has been mainstay for the country at the Caribbean Series ever since.
"I would have liked to have been in the States but Mexico has been good to me, and I can't say anything but good stuff about it," Roberson said. "It was a little scary the first year, but I'm cool."
Roberson's name had been discussed among the scouts in attendance all week at the Caribbean Series, but some organizations are hesitant to invest on a player his age. Roberson knows as much.
"We'll see what happens and maybe somebody picks me up, and if not, I'll go back to Monterrey," Roberson said. "If I get the opportunity to play in the big leagues, it will be a blessing. But I'm happy playing baseball. I could be working at UPS or scuffling at a job I don't like where I'm not happy, but I'm happy here."
Like Roberson, Puerto Rico starter Joel Pineiro is keeping his options open.
Pitching on three days' rest, Pineiro shut down the Mexican offense with five scoreless innings Saturday. Overall, Pineiro didn't allow an earned run in 11 2/3 innings over two appearances during the Caribbean Series.
"I felt good and I had a good sinker going, but I was going on three days' rest for the first time in about eight or nine years," Pineiro said. "Knock on wood, everything is going great and my body feels good. Now, it's just a matter of somebody believing in me and giving me an opportunity, a second chance."
Pineiro has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011 with the Angels. He underwent season-ending right labrum surgery in 2012 with Baltimore and missed all of the 2013 season while recovering. This winter, he went 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA in 26 innings over five outings for Ponce in Puerto Rico.
Pineiro's departure ignited the Mexican offense.
Including Roberson's homer, Mexico scored six runs in the sixth inning with Pineiro out of the game. Four runs came on a grand slam from catcher Sebastian Valle to give Hermosillo a 6-0 lead.
Mexico starter Juan Delgadillo was stellar on the mound, allowing four hits in seven scoreless innings. Overall, Delgadillo did not allow a run in 14 innings during his two Caribbean Series starts.
"His performance speaks for itself," Carrillo said. "He was outstanding."
There's always next year.
A team from Puerto Rico has not won the Caribbean Series since 2000. The 2014 Caribbean Series will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"We had a couple of mistakes here and there, but we battled back to get here and we have nothing to hang our heads about," Pineiro said. "Hopefully, we can win in next year in Puerto Rico. It's all coming along."