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Chaotic finale lifts Venezuela to title

Chaotic finale lifts Venezuela to title

MARACAY, Venezuela -- What was billed as the biggest night of the week and the most anticipated baseball game in the country in more than 15 years, the finale of the 2006 Caribbean Series lived up to the hype on Tuesday night at Estadio Jose Perez Colmenares.

It was raw.

So raw the emotion between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela -- in the dugouts and in the stands -- spilled over onto the diamond on more than one occasion and the result was the creation of an atmosphere during the game that was absolutely electric.

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The final score created chaos.

Venezuela 5, Dominican Republic 4.

The home team is the Caribbean Series champion for the first time in 17 years after a dramatic rally with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning led them to a perfect 6-0 finish.

Not long after Venezuela's Alex Gonzalez pounced on home plate for the game-winner, the fireworks lit up the night behind the new Red Sox shortstop and the fans poured onto the field from the stands. Everybody partied on the field like it was 1989, the last time the country won the title, and the sound of the country's favorite chant -- "Veh-neh-zueh-lah, ooh!" -- was deafening.

And delightful.

"I want to thank God for being with us the whole season," Venezuelan manager Carlos Subero said. "I would like to thank the fans for being so loyal in the good moments and the bad moments. This title belongs to the fans and to the whole country."

Down, 4-3, in the ninth, Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez, named the Caribbean Series MVP, led off the bottom of the frame with a single and was immediately replaced by pinch-runner William Bergolla. The moved proved to be a wise one because Bergolla advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and tied the game at 4 when he rambled home on Gonzalez's single to right field.

He would not stay at first long.

Cubs catcher Henry Blanco followed with a high popup to shallow left field between Dominican shortstop Erick Aybar and left fielder Napoleon Calzado. Backpedaling and seemingly confused, the ball hit Aybar's head and rolled away. Gonzalez sped around the bases to send Venezuela's Caracas Baseball Club into the record books.

The cheers were thunderous.

"This is one of the happiest moments of my life," Gonzalez said. "I dedicate this to the fans and to the country. This is for Venezuela."

The Dominican Republic finished the series in second place with a 4-2 record. Both losses were to Venezuela.

"Veh-neh-zueh-lah,ooh!"

"The fans asked us for a championship," Venezuela designated hitter Alex Cabrera said. "Here it is."

It was not easy.

Trailing, 3-1, Venezuela tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning when Franklyn Gutierrez smashed a line drive to right field that skipped under the glove of the diving Timo Perez. Marco Scutaro scored the home team's second on the play and Hernandez followed shortly after with Venezuela's third run of the game. Gutierrez sprinted to third for a standup triple as the ball rolled toward the right-field fence.

The next batter, Gonzalez, struck out swinging. But it did not matter.

The cheers resumed after innings of silence: "Veh-neh-zueh-lah, ooh!!"

Before the start of the next inning, more than 20 cameramen exchanged words with ballpark security and eventually marched on the field in protest. Play was stopped for almost 10 minutes until the cameramen were coaxed back into the camera well by security and players, including Venezuela second baseman Marco Scutaro.

"Veh-neh-zueh-lah, huh?"

The focus returned to the field when Dominican catcher Sandy Martinez, the second hitter in the frame, drove Gonzalez's first pitch over the wall in right field to push the visitors ahead, 4-3.

"Veh-neh-zueh-lah, wow!"

The Dominican Republic wasted little time attacking Venezuelan starter Jeremi Gonzalez. Anderson Hernandez hit a single on the first pitch and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt.

He motored around from second to score when Scutaro made an error on a sharp groundball off the bat of Miguel Tejada. Tejada scooted to second on the play and eventually came home when Detroit outfielder Alexis Gomez followed with a single to center field to give the Dominican Republic a 2-0 lead.

The Dominican faithful, present and loud, responded with roars of delight. The flags waved and the horns blew.

Few were cheering for Venezuela.

Gonzalez rebounded with three scoreless innings, but the Dominican Republic stung the home team again in the fourth, this time when Cleveland third baseman Ronnie Belliard trotted home from third base on a sacrifice fly by Jose Offerman to give the Dominicans a 3-0 cushion.

Again, the only cheers being heard were from the Dominican fans. Venezuela's "fanaticos." by far the most enthusiastic in the series, watched in awe.

The silence coming out of the stands and the home dugout, however, was only temporary.

In the bottom of the fourth inning with Dominican Republic starter Juan Cruz (Oakland) on the mound, Hernandez hit a solo home run, his third long ball of the series, to put Venezuela on the scoreboard and cut the deficit to 3-1.

Cruz appeared erratic to start the game, walking the first two batters he faced before striking out Rafael Alvarez on his way to sitting down six in a row. Venezuela left fielder Javier Herrera snapped the streak with single but was quickly wiped off the basepaths when the next batter, Luis Rodriguez, grounded into a double play.

Scutaro flied out, and just like that, Cruz had three scoreless innings in the books.

The cheers would resume for good six innings later, even as smoke from the fireworks faded into the background and the mini-blimp that had rocketed across the field in celebration sat deflated into the corner.

The young danced in the outfield and the young at heart danced right along with them.

The crowd noise drowned all the announcements being made at the stadium, including the presentation of the championship trophy.

It had been a long time coming and for the players and fans it was their time to shine, and shout.

"Veh-neh-zueh-lah, ooh!"

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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