Super Sunday for Venezuela, Mexico

Super Sunday for Venezuela, Mexico

MARACAY, Venezuela -- There was Super Saturday, and it was transcendent, very likely the best baseball game ever played in February.

Nobody expected anything close to that brand of drama on Sunday, but that's what developed when winless Mexico decided to create some high anxiety for unbeaten Venezuela. Mazatlan pushed Caracas to extra innings before Alexander Cabrera rocketed a single in the bottom of the 10th against Ignacio Flores to win it for Venezuela, 4-3.

Looming on the horizon now is Tremendous Tuesday, with Venezuela and the Dominican Republic getting back together for another potential epic in the final scheduled game of a dazzling 2006 Caribbean Series.

And if the two teams should finish the six games deadlocked, a one-game playoff for the championship arrives on Wednesday.

Rafael Landestoy, manager of Licey's Dominican champions, wasn't looking beyond Tremendous Tuesday. First comes a date with suddenly dangerous Mexico on Monday, as Venezuela engages Puerto Rico.

"That would be great," Landestoy was saying through a handsome smile Sunday evening at Estadio Jose Perez Colmenares. "I think it'll be very interesting to see what happens the second time.

"We needed this game, and we got it. Now we'll see how Venezuela does against Mexico."

Licey's Tigers had kept the pressure on Caracas' Lions, champs of Venezuela, by putting away Puerto Rico, 9-2, to go to 3-1.

Caracas, which prevailed on Saturday night when Alex Gonzalez launched an unforgettable missile into the Valencia sky, was about to face in Sunday's nightcap one tough hombre, Edgar G. Gonzalez -- not to be confused with Edgar V. Gonzalez, Mazatlan's sterling second baseman.

Beaten, 17-1, in the opener, Mexico was determined to show its heart -- and did it ever, rallying with gusto from a two-run deficit to tie it in the ninth inning against one of the game's finest relief pitchers, Francisco Rodriguez.

Some of these games are so good, it feels like October.

Edgar G. Gonzalez did an excellent job of Lion-taming, holding Caracas' sluggers in check just enough to allow Juan Canizalez's stunning two-run homer in the top of the ninth against K-Rod to even it at 3.

But Venezuela loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th, and big Cabrera delivered a smoking line drive past third to end it, touching off yet another exhilarating celebration.

It was Edgar V. Gonzalez, having put together eight consecutive hits to establish a new Series record, who maintained his torrid run by lifting a drive over the center-field fence for a 1-0 Mazatlan lead in the second inning.

It came against Caracas' Landon Jacobsen, a smooth-throwing Pittsburgh right-hander who would go on to pitch brilliantly.

The best pitcher of the Series thus far, though, has been Venezuela's Geremi (cq) Gonzalez, who subdued Mexico in the opener.

This clearly is quite an assemblage of Gonzalezes -- challenged, it develops, by the Rodriguezes.

Frankie Rodriguez, Venezuela's electric closer, is well known to Major League fans for his spectacular relief efforts in Anaheim for the Angels. K-Rod first drew attention snapping impossible sliders during the club's run to the World Series title in 2002.

K-Rod blew only five of 50 save attempts in 2005, but Mazatlan didn't buckle. Trenidad Hubbard, a 10-year Major League veteran, singled hard to center and had just stolen third, improbably, when Canizalez lifted the next pitch into the seats in right.

Less established than K-Rod, but loaded with promise, is 25-year-old Luis A. Rodriguez. Caracas' third baseman, a potential Minnesota Twins star, Luis A. has been almost as hot as Edgar V.

When he doubled home Franklin Gutierrez for a 2-1 lead Sunday night, Rodriguez extended his Series-leading RBI total to eight, three coming Saturday night in Valencia before Gonzalez's blast. Luis' stroke is pure from both sides.

Luis A. -- there's also plain Luis Rodriguez, a backup catcher, on the roster -- can flash some leather, too. He made a play on Sunday night, going behind third and into foul territory to rob Jesse Gutierrez of a hit, calling to mind a prime-time Brooks Robinson.

All the Gonzalezes and Rodriguezes in Venezuela will be talking for years about that game Saturday night, which rode astonishing crests of emotions through 15 hits apiece, eight homers (five by Licey) and no errors. It took three hours and 47 minutes to complete, not bad by masterpiece standards.

It took me almost that long to dry off after celebrants hurled beer and other beverages toward the heavens, landing all over my head and clothing, as Alex Gonzalez's towering drive carried over the wall for three runs in the top of the ninth, turning a 9-8 deficit into an 11-9 victory.

Those 15,889 fanaticos felt like 150,000. They had their stadium vibrating like a World Cup soccer gathering. I've experienced hundreds of celebrations in a dozen sports, but I don't think I've ever seen a spontaneous eruption quite like this one.

"It was crazy, man, crazy, crazy game," said Orioles hopeful Napoleon Calzado, the angular Licey left fielder who gave futile pursuit to Gonzalez's rocket. "It was fun."

Licey third baseman Ronnie Belliard has played in 902 Major League games with Milwaukee, Colorado and Cleveland, but he couldn't recall being in one like this.

"I was just standing there at third base laughing, it was so amazing," said Belliard, who delivered one of Licey's five homers in the game.

"I remember saying to their third-base coach [Mario Gonzalez], 'It can't get any crazier than this -- can it?' And then something else crazy happened. It was wild, wild."

Some of his teammates didn't get to sleep until 6 a.m., but Belliard said he had no problem shaking it off and coming back ready to play Sunday afternoon -- just 14 hours after the final pitch had been thrown by Frankie Rodriguez.

"It was a tough loss, but we knew we were still alive," Belliard said, having singled home the first run in Licey's romp over Puerto Rico. "It was not that difficult to get up for this game.

"We're still in pretty good shape. We have to beat Mexico and see what happens to Venezuela."

It's a two-team race for the title, and both play an exhilarating brand of fast-break, freewheeling baseball, Latino style.

It feels a whole lot like Tremendous Tuesday will live up to any and all expectations. And there's one more delicious possibility.

There just might be a Wondrous Wednesday.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.