Mexico, Venezuela improve to 2-0 at Caribbean Series
Former Phillies prospect Valle keys Mazatlan with two doubles
By Jesse Sanchez
GAME 1 Mexico 9, Cuba 3
Propelled by catcher Sebastian Valle, Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan earned their second victory in two days at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal, this time cruising past Cuba's Ciego de Avila Tigres, 9-3, in Tuesday's matinee at the 2016 Caribbean Series.
Valle's three-run double in the second inning gave Mexico an early lead, and Cyle Hankerd's home run in the third frame extended the lead to 4-0. Mexico tacked on another run in the next inning for a five-run advantage after four complete innings.
Cuban second baseman Yulieski Gourriel scored, and his younger brother Lourdes Gourriel Jr. drove in a run as part of a three-run sixth inning to cut Mexico's advantage to 5-3. Mexico scored another run in the sixth and three more runs -- two on another double by Valle -- in the seventh to put the game away.
Valle, a former Phillies prospect, finished with five RBIs.
Mexico will play Venezuela's Tigres de Aragua in the first game on Wednesday. Cuba will face Puerto Rico's Cangrejeros de Santurce in the night game.
Yulieski Gourriel is the best player in Cuba and the reason many Major League scouts were in attendance for Tuesday's matinee. The infielder was an Olympian in 2004 and has represented Cuba in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments. He has also been part of Cuban championship teams at the Pan American Games, Central American Games, World Baseball Championships and International Cup.
Gourriel, who finished 2-for-5 with a double and a run scored, has said he would like to play in the Major Leagues one day but wants to leave the island legally and with the Cuban government's blessing. Because of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, any Cuban defector who wants to do business with an American company must first establish residency outside Cuba and the United States to begin the path toward free agency.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Hankerd knew it was gone once the ball left his bat. The slugger's home run in the third inning extended Mazatlan's lead to 4-0 and marked the first home run hit over the fence in the 2016 Caribbean Series. It's no surprise Hankerd is scheduled to participate in the tournament's inaugural home run derby Wednesday night.
Hankerd finished 1-for-3.
GAME 2 Venezuela 8, Dominican Republic 7
Venezuela's Tigres de Aragua rallied for one run in the bottom of the ninth, and Hernan Perez scored the game-winning run on a single by Rays Minor Leaguer Juniel Querecuto in the bottom of the 10th to secure an 8-7 victory at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal.
Venezuela improves to 2-0 with the victory.
The Dominican Republic (0-2) scored four runs in the top of the second, two on a double by Pedro Lopez for an early 4-0 lead. Baltimore's Dariel Alvarez scored Venezuela's first run in the bottom of the second, and he capped a three-run inning by the Tigres with a two-run triple to tie the game at 4.
Marlins Minor Leaguer Moises Sierra scored on a single by Carlos Paulino to push the Dominican Republic back ahead, 5-4, in the fourth, but Venezuela tied the score at 5 in the bottom of the fifth.
Alvarez's line drive back at Dominican Republic closer Fernando Rodney would later tie the score at 7.
Venezuela will take on Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan (2-0) Wednesday afternoon, followed by Cuba (0-1) facing Puerto Rico's Cangrejeros de Santurce (0-1) in the nightcap.
The Dominican Republic's Junior Lake hit a thunderous, tiebreaking home run in the sixth inning and followed it with a glorious bat flip. Lake, who spent most of last season in the Minors with the Orioles and Cubs, put his club ahead by one with the solo shot.
Lake finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored. He was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays in December.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Querecuto will remember this one for a while. The shortstop lined a single up the middle to score Perez for the game-winning run on Tuesday night. It should be a confidence booster for a player looking to secure a job in the Tampa Bay organization. He split most of last season between Class A Advanced and Double-A with a brief stop at Triple-A. He's built a reputation as hard worker and a competitor.
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.