Dominican Republic defeats Puerto Rico in a thrilling nightcap

Since Thursday, everyone has wondered how the Saturday night game between Criollos de Caguas from Puerto Rico and Tigres del Licey from the Dominican Republic would play out. And by «the game,» I do not just mean the baseball game in between the lines, but rather the experience. That is because in any sport, in any context, if an element from the Dominican Republic is competing somehow against a component from Puerto Rico, you are assured two things. One is that there will be an intense contest, and the other one is that that contest will be accompanied by a great atmosphere. The atmosphere is electric, whether the WBC or the Caribbean Series. Even though these are clubs, not national teams, and even though there are players from Cuba, Venezuela, and the USA in both Criollos de Caguas and Tigres del Licey rosters, tonight’s game in the heart of the vast majority of the 36,000 fans in attendance (a Caribbean Series record) was the Dominican Republic vs. Puerto Rico. «Tonight, we are all pulling for Licey because they represent the Dominican Republic,» said Emiliano de la Rosa, a fan wearing an Aguilas Cibaenas jersey. His support for Licey is an act that many in Dominican baseball consider sacrilegious or treasonous. Can you imagine a New York Yankees fan pulling for the Boston Red Sox? That’s the influence of Serie del Caribe. In Serie del Caribe, club loyalties sometimes can take a back seat. In Miami, tonight, it was the Dominican Republic vs Puerto Rico.

                And the internationally flavored match did not fail to deliver on the emotions. Just like the day prior, Licey would rely deeply on production from their veteran players. Licey seemed to begin the game playing with a sense of urgency. That is because, for the first 18 innings of this Caribbean Series, Licey has been playing behind the proverbial eight ball and held the lead for only two. Team captain Emilio Bonifacio led off the game, and Criollo’s Darryl Thompson signaled to his first baseman Vimael Machin to look out for his bunt, anticipating Licey looking for an early run. And once Bonifacio got on base, he did something rarely seen in baseball. Bonifacio was out after attempting to steal a base to generate offense for his team. That is not what is usual. What is unusual is a player asking for an instant replay on the game’s second play. Yes. I cannot recall the last time a player utilized instant replay in the top of the first inning. But last night, Bonifacio did. It speaks of the previous night’s game’s magnitude and the tremendous veteran leadership of the team’s captain. Although Bonifacio lost his appeal, one thing was sure: the teams came to play.

                Most of the Dominican offense came in the second inning, mainly off the bat of another veteran and staple of Dominican baseball: Robinson Cano. Cano sent one of Thompson’s pitches over the right field wall, sending the primarily Dominican crowd into a frenzy. Thompson, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, was not so fortunate when Licey got him for three runs in the second. Criollos’ offense came to life after Thompson exited on a fourth-inning rally led by RBI hits from Danny Ortiz and Emmanuel Rivera. Puerto Rico’s bullpen was able to cool off the Dominican offense with 6.1 innings in combined relief, led by MLB veteran Alex Claudio, who came in Thompson’s relief and led the bullpen with 2.1 innings pitched, allowing no runs and no hits and gave his offense a chance. However, last night was not Criollo’s night at offense. A combined effort led by starter Cesar Valdez, who went five innings, allowing only two runs and striking out six Criollos batters, plus Licey’s bullpen, which threw four one-hit innings, sealed the win for the maximum Caribbean champions.

                After the game, Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina credited the Licey bullpen, declaring, «They did what they needed to do and came out playing a great game.» He also alluded to his bullpen plans being shaken by the game prior’s injury to Sanabia but also said those are perils that happen in tournaments and every team is subject to. Licey’s Robinson Cano was all smiles after the game, declaring the Home Run one of his career’s most exciting moments.

                Criollos and Licey will see action on Sunday as Puerto Rico faces Venezuela, one of the remaining undefeated teams. Licey will face Naranjeros de Hermosillo on the Sunday prime-time game.

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