Notes: Cora says future is 'small ball'

Notes: Cora says future is 'small ball'

MARACAY, Venezuela -- You couldn't tell it by the Caribbean Series, but Alex Cora, veteran Major League infielder playing for Puerto Rico, thinks we got a hint of the game's direction with the World Series conquest by the Chicago White Sox and their Venezuelan manager, Ozzie Guillen.

"I know the game," Cora said, "and with everything going on with the steroid policy, there aren't going to be too many more 70 homer seasons or second basemen with 45 homers.

"We're gonna go back to 'small ball.' We saw it in the playoffs. Ozzie gave a lesson in how to play the game right."

Cora was raised in baseball, in effect, by older brother Joey, third-base coach of the White Sox and Venezuela Winter League manager, and Joey's good friend Guillen.

Their influence is profound on Alex, who knows he was lucky to grow up in such an environment.

"Ozzie and Joey are best friends," said Alex, whose favorite player growing up was Robbie Alomar. "I look at them not as baseball people but as brothers. Ozzie's like my step-brother.

"I couldn't ask for a better brother than Joey. When you're 5-8 -- supposedly -- and have the kind of career he did in baseball, you know you're doing things right. I looked straight at him for how to play and act."

Cora is playing in his fourth Caribbean World Series, having made his debut in 2001 in Culiacan, Mex.

"The fans, the atmosphere ... it's a different feeling here," he said. "It's not like playing in front of 55,000 fans in Dodger Stadium. Everybody's closer to you, and it's like a party for them. If you can come to the Series every year, you start knowing people, and that makes it even better."

Cora said he anticipates settling into a utility role for the Boston Red Sox this season.

"We've got Alex [Gonzalez, playing for Venezuela] at shortstop and [Mark] Loretta at second, so I'll probably have the same role as last year," said Cora, a terrific second baseman for the Dodgers before they rearranged their infield after the 2004 season. "I'm getting to the point where it is what it is."

Offense rules: The numbers tilted heavily toward the hitters across the first half of the Series. The four teams were batting .324 combined with 21 homers and 89 runs scored in a six games -- an average of 7.4 runs per game per team.

Venezuela led the way with 34 runs scored, averaging 11.3 per game, and a .376 team average. Only Mexico, at .284, was below .300 as a club.

The leading hitter was Mexico second baseman Edgar Gonzalez at .818, with nine hits, including a Series-record eight in a row. He was tied with Venzuela's Ramon Hernandez in total bases with 16, Hernandez delivered what historians called the first-ever Series cycle in the opener against Mexico.

Venezuela also had the best team ERA -- 3.33. Next was Puerto Rico, at 5.59. Venezuela's Geremi Gonzalez had the longest stint of any starter, going seven innings, and he's the leader with seven strikeouts.

Clearly, the hitters are way ahead of the pitchers in early February.

Handling Hanley: Considered one of the best prospects in the Boston organization, Hanley Ramírez was traded to the Marlins during the offseason. The young infielder is part of the Dominican roster playing in the 2006 Caribbean Series.

"I just want to play with a team who will allow me to be in the lineup so I can show what I am able to do in the field," he said.

Ramirez wears jersey No. 24 in the in the Caribbean Series in honor of Manny Ramírez. Miguel Cabrera wears the number for the Marlins so Ramirez will sport jersey No. 2 in honor of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, one of his favorite players.

Puerto Rican preview: Puerto Rico's less-than-stellar showing in the first few games of the Series should not be viewed as an indication of how the country's club will do in next month's World Baseball Classic, Puerto Rico manager Leno Rivera said.

"It's going to be totally different because all of the premier players will play," Rivera said. "When those guys get together, they are really good. I expect Puerto Rico to do well. The pitching might not be the best, but we have quality players at every position.

"I know the Dominicans will have a good team," Rivera continued. "But they cannot all play at the same time."

Major League pitchers Joel Pineiro, J.C. Romero, and Javier Vazquez, along with catchers Bengie Molina, Javy Lopez and Ivan Rodriguez are also on the roster. The infield will feature a combination of Jose Vidro, Alex Cintron, Cora, Carlos Delgado and others. Carlos Beltran, Ruben Sierra, Bernie Williams and Luis Matos are listed among the outfielders.

"It's what everybody is waiting for," Rivera said. "Everybody is excited about the World Cup and I hope it gets things going for Puerto Rico. At one time, we had the best baseball in the world."

Following Sunday's 9-2 loss to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico was 1-3. Puerto Rico squares off against Venezuela on Monday night.

"Our team here is very young. There are a lot of prospects on this club," Rivera said. "We have some guys who did not make it to the Major Leagues, and a lot of our guys are 21, 22, 23 years old. We are still doing pretty good."

Jesse Sanchez and Lyle Spencer are reporters for Boris Mizrahi contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.