Mazatlan defeats Venezuela to give nation third title in four years
By Jesse Sanchez
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The rhythmic chants began before the first pitch at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal.
"Meh-he-co, Meh-he-co, Meh-he-co."
It didn't take long for Mexico's fans to make their presence felt. Nine innings later, their cheers were drowned out by thunderous fireworks, traditional Mexican music and a wild celebration on the field.
Mexico designated hitter Jorge Vazquez led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a home run to left field to lift the Venados de Mazatlan to a 5-4 victory against Venezuela's Tigres de Aragua for the country's third Caribbean Series title in four years.
Vazquez, who was born in Mexico, played for the Tigres de Aragua during the regular season last winter and shined in Venezuela during playoffs. Mexico finished a perfect 6-0 record.
"I had a great time in Venezuela and I learned a lot there," Vazquez said. "They play hard and they have fun. I have so much respect for them. But the Tigres are a team I know very well and I know their pitchers, what they do. I was able to get my pitch."
A team from Mexico won the Caribbean Series championship in 2013 (Yaquis de Obregon) and '14 (Naranjeros de Hermosillo). Cuba's Pinar del Rio defeated Mexico's Tomateros de Culiacan, 3-2, in the championship game last year in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Mexico's Obregon also won the title in 2011. Venezuela, which was seeking its first Caribbean Series title since the Tigres won in '09, finished with a 4-1 record.
"All I can say is you can't do anything by yourself," said Mexican Pacific League president Omar Canizales. "Our success is a product of the players, the coaches, the executives, the trainers and everyone involved in Mexican baseball. We've won Caribbean Series before, but we've never been undefeated. There's never been an undefeated team in this format. Now that we've done it, it's another feather in the cap for Mexico."
Next year's Caribbean Series is scheduled for the first week of February at a new stadium for the Tomateros de Culiacan in Culiacan, Mexico. The tournament could eventually include Panama. Cuba, a special guest during the past three tournaments, would like to become a full member of the Caribbean Confederation and host a series sometime after 2018, but it's too early to tell if it will qualify.
Venezuela had its chances Sunday.
The Tigres led, 4-2, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when Venezuela reliever Gumercindo Gonzalez fielded a ground ball off the bat of Mexico second baseman Esteban Quiroz, and fired to first base for what should have been the third out of the inning. It wasn't. Venezuela first baseman Felix Perez could not handle the throw, and it allowed former Major League infielder Yuniesky Betancourt and Quiroz to advance into scoring position. Both scored on a single by catcher Sebastian Valle to tie the game at 4.
"We had a great series, but we didn't have good defense all series and it hurt us," said Venezuela manager Eddie Perez, the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. "But I'm really proud of my players. We never hung our heads or gave up."
Venezuela also struggled on the basepaths. The Tigres had runners thrown out at second base and third base in the sixth inning and at home in the seventh and eighth innings.
Tied at 2 in the seventh, Venezuela left fielder Jose Martinez scored Venezuela's third run on a single by his brother, Teodoro Martinez. Sandy Leon, who played 41 games for the Red Sox last season, extended Venezuela's lead to 4-2 when he scored on a sacrifice fly by right fielder Alex Romero.
Pitching in the final game of his career, Freddy Garcia held Mexico's offense in check the first two innings, retiring all six batters he faced. But Quiroz led off the third with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored Mexico's first run on single by former D-backs Minor Leaguer Chris Roberson, who scored on a wild pitch to extend Mexico's lead to 2-0.
Jose Martinez, who played in 98 games for Kansas City's Triple-A team in 2015, singled to center field to lead off the fifth. Second baseman Hernan Perez followed with a home run off Mexico starter Eddie Gamboa to tie the game at 2.
Garcia pitched two more scoreless innings. He retired Jeremias Pineda on a comebacker to the mound to start the sixth. Garcia walked the next hitter, Justin Greene, and did not face another hitter.
Garcia was charged with two runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out three and walked two.
The 16-year big league veteran was greeted like a hero in the Venezuela dugout and the crowd broke into chants of "Freddy, Freddy, Freddy." Garcia took the final curtain call of his career, wiped his face, grabbed a cup of water and watched the rest of the game from behind the railing in the dugout.
"That's what we expected from Freddy," Eddie Perez said. "He pitched a good game and he wanted to stay out there as usual, but I wanted him to get recognized for his great career. I'm proud of him."
Puerto Rico's Cangrejeros de Santurce finished the Caribbean Series with a record of 2-3, Cuba's Ciego de Avila went 1-4 and the Dominican Republic's Leones del Escogido lost all four games it played.
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.