Rivera’s offense, the bullpen, and Molina’s resourcefulness lift Puerto Rico over Mexico

Yadier Molina had a bone to pick with Naranjeros de Hermosillo on Friday night. He made sure he shared that on Thursday. But what did the most storied franchise in Mexican Winter baseball history do to one of the most revered players in Puerto Rican baseball history and now the manager of the most storied franchise in Puerto Rican baseball history? They dared wear a jersey that looked like the jersey of an adversary that defeated him eleven months ago. Molina declared that part of his motivation to win on Friday was because of the result that sent Puerto Rico home in the World Baseball Classic in 2023. “But wait, that was Mexico’s national team, not the Naranjeros team. It is not the same”, says that one person we all know in every party that is always eager to correct everyone.  That does not matter. Molina knows that. He knows the difference between the World Baseball Classic and the Caribbean Series and how teams are fielded because he competed in both multiple times as both a player and now manager. But he needed fuel to win. He needed to fuel his players. He wanted to motivate his players to win a crucial game against a worthy adversary: and they did.

A crucial two RBI hit by Emmanuel Rivera in the fifth inning was all that Criollos de Caguas needed offensively on Friday night to defeat Naranjeros 2-0, and finish day two as the only team in the Series with two wins.  “I was looking to put the ball in play and make their defense make a play,” declared Rivera when asked to reminisce about the at bat. With runners on second and third following a sacrifice bunt, Rivera was able to launch a change up from Naranjeros starter Odrisemer Dispaigne that was meant to make him swing and miss, into center field to plate all the offense the Puerto Rico league champions would need.

Rivera’s heroics would be far from the only ones Puerto Rico would need to put away the maximum champions from Mexico. After three innings, Criollo’s starter Alex Sanabia had to leave due to injury after three innings, which forced Molina to go to his bullpen earlier than anticipated to complete six innings. Puerto Rico’s bullpen answered the call, led by Lincoln Henzman who pitched two innings and recorded four strikeouts, and Danny Wirchansky who recorded the biggest out of the night for Puerto Rico, eliminating a threat from Naranjeros in the eighth inning. A perfect ninth frame from Chavez Hernandez would then secure the win.

After the game, Naranjeros manager Juan Gabriel Castro praised the effort of the Puerto Rico bullpen and assured that it is not over for his team, although, he recognized they are in an unfavorable position. “We just could not find the offense to compliment the effort from our starting pitcher”, declared Castro. Other than the runs given up to Rivera, Dispaigne was strong, going six innings and striking out four. Molina credited his team’s ability to execute the small game in crucial situations.

Both teams will see action on Friday, as Mexico will look for its first win in a game they really cannot afford to lose against Federales de Chiriquí representing Panama, who won their first game earlier. Criollos de Caguas are now 2-0 will move on to face the current Series champion Tigres del Licey on Saturday night, in an encounter that is expected to sellout Loan Depot Park, which would set a new attendance record for the Series, surpassing the Final last year in Venezuela.

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