HERMOSILLO, Mexico –- It took a lot longer than anyone would have ever anticipated, but nobody cared. At 2:43 a.m. MT, after 18 innings and almost eight hours of low-scoring baseball, Mexico's very own Yaquis de Obregon prevailed over a powerhouse Dominican squad, outlasting the defending champs with a 4-3 victory that gave the locals a Caribbean Series title to celebrate.
Now, they'll party 'til the sun rises.
"They're the ones who push us. They're the ones who keep us going," Royals right-hander Luis Mendoza, who pitched Obregon into the championship game with a near no-hitter, said as he gazed upon the fans in a still-packed Estadio Sonora after the closing ceremonies. "They were here the whole game. Nobody ever left. That's why we're here.
"This championship is for them."
And it was Massachusetts-bred Doug Clark who gave it to them with a wall-scraper that barely made it over the right-field fence with one out in the top of the 18th. His home run provided the final blow in defeating the Dominican Republic's vaunted Leones del Escogido, and it put the finishing touches on a historically long game.
The time of game (seven hours, 28 minutes) was a record for the Caribbean Series, which has been played 55 times. So were the 21 pitchers used. And the 18 innings tied a 2007 game for the most ever.
In total, 507 pitches were thrown.
And it was 5:43 a.m. in the Dominican Republic when a 5-1 Escogido team fell just short of winning its third title in four years.
"This was a game for the ages," Clark, the MVP of the finals, said while trying to muster his best Spanish. "This is like three or four games in one. We had the game in our hands twice and they came back. But they're a very dangerous team, and we had to maintain our focus every inning."
Before Mexican Pacific League legend Karim Garcia led off the top of the 14th with a go-ahead homer, Obregon had just four hits through 13 innings. Before Caribbean Series hero Miguel Tejada came up with a two-out, game-tying RBI single in the bottom-half of the frame, Escogido was 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
Four innings later, Clark broke another prolonged silence, feasting on a breaking ball out over the plate thrown by Edward Valdez.
Clark is 36. From 1998 to 2007, he toiled in the Minors mostly as a left fielder, seeing action in only 14 games from 2005-06 with the Giants and A's. From 2008-10, he played in Korea. And over the past three years, he's made a living in Mexico, all for a moment like this.
"This," Clark said, "is the best feeling of my life. My wife is here, my son is here -– he was born here in Mexico. This is a moment that we'll never, ever forget."
The fact Mexico even had this opportunity was the product of a new format, which tacked a championship game onto the end of the original double-round-robin format. Had the previous rules been in place, Escogido would've clinched the championship with Tuesday's win over Obregon, which went 3-3 in its six round-robin games.
Obregon -– with other past and present Major Leaguers in Luis Ayala, Alfredo Amezaga, Marlon Byrd and Dennys Reyes –- was making its third straight trip to the Caribbean Series as the Mexican Pacific League champs. The title was the club's second in three years, and it marked the first time since 2005 that Mexico captured the crown in a year it hosted the Caribbean Series.
Obregon did it by beating an Escogido team that boasts the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, Fernando Rodney, Julio Lugo and Fernando Tatis, who was out for the final due to a leg injury.
"We're champions of the Caribbean Series," Mexico's Dominican-born manager, Eddie Diaz, said. "No one can ever take that away from us."
Obregon starter Rodrigo Lopez and Escogido starter Angel Castro each pitched well through 7 2/3 innings, with Castro giving up two runs (one earned) and Lopez surrendering just one unearned run.
In the fifth, Mets prospect Jordany Valdespin let a two-out line drive bounce off his glove and trickle to the fence, giving Mexico its first lead, which would hold until the ninth.
Against Ayala in the bottom of the ninth, Ricardo Nanita –- a winter-ball legend who has played 11 seasons in the Minor Leagues but hasn't reached the Majors -– tied it at 2. In the top of the 14th, Garcia hit one out to give Mexico yet another lead, but in the bottom half, Tejada came through with his two-out RBI single to the right side.
Then came Clark.
Finally, in the bottom of the 18th, in the wee hours of the morning, Donell Linares' line drive fell snugly into Byrd's glove in right field.
And then, at last, the party started.
"It's Mexico, man, they love their baseball here," Byrd said. "That's what I've learned. I got down here early, played a whole season of winter ball. Baseball is the No. 1 sport. It's just amazing."