Saucedo seals it in the 10th for Mexico

Saucedo seals it in the 10th for Mexico

SANTIAGO, Dominican Republic -- The Tigers de Licey remain one win away from becoming the first team ever to win the Caribbean Series without winning their own league. But their track to a perfect series just took a sudden detour with a dramatic defeat.

After pulling out close contests for three of their first four wins, the Tigres had a three-run lead in the ninth inning against the winless Mexican champion Yaquis of Obregon before a Ronnie Belliard error and a collapse from previously dominant Carlos Marmol allowed it to vanish. Roberto Saucedo's three-run home run in the top of the 10th, his second homer of the game, earned Nelson Figueroa another victory against Licey and completed the 7-4 upset.

"We came here to fight, to play good baseball," Saucedo said through a translator. "Things have not come out our way. We weren't hitting. We could not get any clutch hits. Today I was able to deliver one, and we were able to pull one out."

Licey still faces the same challenge they had going into the day: Beat their Dominican rival Aguilas Cibaenas on Aguilas' home field at Estadio Cibao on Thursday, and the Tigres win the series. Instead of Aguilas needing to win that game and a tiebreaker to take the crown, however, Thursday's rematch will be a winner-take-all showdown if Aguilas can defeat Aragua Wednesday night. And Aguilas can thank a former teammate and postseason hero for part of it.

"To come back to Santiago and perform like this," said Figueroa, the New York native and former Aguilas hurler, "is a dream."

When the Yaquis took Licey to extra innings in their previous matchup on Sunday, Jose Bautista accounted for both runs, including a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the 11th. He haunted them again in the rematch by lofting a Walter Silva offering into the left-field seats, turning a 1-1 score into a 3-1 advantage.

Wednesday's homer scored Nelson Cruz, who had dashed out a double to left-center field leading off the fourth inning. He led off again in the sixth with a double and took third on an aggressive play on Bautista's groundout to third, setting himself up to come home on a Timo Perez single through the right side.

Saucedo's first home run was the only scoring allowed by Licey starter and Texas Rangers farmhand Omar Beltre, who allowed four hits, walked none and struck out three over six innings. Combined with reliever Jalian Peguero, the Tigres sent down nine straight Yaquis in order, sending them toward what looked like a rather decisive loss before back-to-back hits brought the would-be tying run to the plate and brought Marmol out of the bullpen.

Marmol fired fastballs by Jorge Padilla before sending him down swinging at an offspeed pitch. He came back out to try to finish the game in the ninth, but a leadoff single and stolen base from Armando Rios set up a score when Reggie Taylor's ground ball to the right side bounced through second baseman Belliard's legs for an error.

When Carlos Valencia followed with a triple into the right-field corner, the Mexican team had the tying run at third. He came home on Oscar Robles' soft line drive, just beyond the outstretched glove of Belliard behind first base.

Marmol finally ended the damage with a double-play ball, keeping the game tied and sending Licey to the plate to decide it. If reports are accurate that the Cubs have limited him to four innings in this tournament, then he might not be available to face Aguilas.

That wasn't Licey's immediate concern as he walked off the mound. Once D'Angelo Jimenez led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice and stole third, the Tigres had a chance to win it with a sacrifice fly.

Again, Licey couldn't finish it. After an intentional walk to Belliard, Nelson Figueroa -- who beat Licey twice in the Dominican finals for Aguilas before throwing nine-plus innings of one-run ball in Sunday's meeting -- entered in relief.

"I'm not a closer," Figueroa said. "I was ready to do whatever was needed."

He delivered what they needed most, inducing a fly ball to short-center field from Matt Tupman to keep Jimenez at third. A fielder's choice ground ball from Emilio Bonifacio ended the threat.

Asked what he had thrown to pull off the escape, Figueroa couldn't remember.

"It was three pitches," he said. "They were outs, and we got out of the inning."

Alfredo Amezaga's leadoff single and Padilla's ensuing walk started the decisive rally in the 10th off Oneli Perez. After Armando Rios flew out to left, up came Saucedo, who had a deep drive to left go foul before he straightened out his swing on a hanging slider.

"It means a lot," Saucedo said. "I'm very happy, because we had not won any games. I thank God I was able to get the winning hit."

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