Cards Winter Ball: Yadi and PR Eliminated

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina's Carolina Giants of Puerto Rico lost to Venezuela on Tuesday, giving the Caribbean Series championship to the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico won 1-0 on Wednesday to end the Series. Molina hit just .188 for the week.

All winter long, we've focused on Cardinals system players competing in Winter Ball action across the four Latin American baseball hotbeds of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela.

While most are done, four clubs remain, with one prominent Cardinal still active, catcher Yadier Molina.

The four league champion teams representing each nation were crowned in the last week, with each now participating in the 2007 Caribbean Series. This year's Series began Friday, February 2 and runs through the 7th.

Games are being played at Stadium Roberto Clemente Walker in Carolina, Puerto Rico, a suburb of San Juan and home of Molina's winter ball club. They last won the Caribbean Series back in 2000.

Each of the four participants takes on the other three clubs twice with all four teams playing each day via double-headers. The Caribbean Series winner will simply be the club that wins the most of their six scheduled contests. If a tiebreaker game is needed, it will be played on Thursday, the 8th.


Puerto Rico

Though they barely reached the playoffs, having to win a one-game tiebreaker contest just to get in and having faced elimination along the way, the Carolina Giants persevered and earned the honor to represent Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series for the second consecutive season.

On Wednesday, the Giants clinched their best-of-nine series against the Arecibo Wolves, prevailing five games to two. Molina went 2-for-4 in the clincher. Other major leaguers on his squad include infielder Alex Cora, outfielder Luis Matos and cleanup hitter and former Texas Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez.


Mexico

The Mazatlan Deer, led by Cardinals farmhands Troy Cate and Edgar Gonzalez, fought all the way to the Mexican Pacific League finals before being swept by the Hermosillo Naranjeros.

The left-hander Cate continued his fine pitching in the playoffs, posting a 2.70 ERA, striking out 27 in 26 2/3 innings pitched. He walked seven. Cate pitched four shutout innings in the finals opener, before yielding five runs to Hermosillo in the fifth. He was added to Mexico's roster for the Caribbean Series, so like Molina, Cate's winter rest will be measured in hours rather than weeks or months.

Gonzalez struggled in the post-season, batting just .214, though he did hit a home run and drive in three. New Memphis signee Hugo Castellanos also saw limited action (six innings) on the mound for the Deer, posting a 1.50 ERA.

Earlier this winter, top prospect Jaime Garcia played for the Naranjeros, but his season ended in mid-December. Among the major leaguers on the Naranjeros include Caribbean Series Game One starter Elmer Dessens and third baseman Vinny Castilla.


Domincan Republic

The Dominican Republic is being represented by Las Aguilas Cibaenas. No Cardinals were on that club's roster this winter. The Eagles are headed by former American League Most Valuable Player, shortstop Miguel Tejada and veteran third baseman Tony Batista.


Venezuela

The Aragua Tigers are the champions of Venezuela. They are led by Baltimore's catcher Ramon Hernandez and Cubs shortstop Ronny Cedeno. Cardinals middle infielders Juan Lucena and Jose Martinez saw action earlier this winter for Aragua, but are not active for the Series. Typically Caribbean Series clubs strengthen their rosters with the best players from their vanquished opponents, creating pseudo-All-Star squads.

Caribbean Series – Day One – February 2/3
Following the 18-inning marathon between the Dominican and Venezuela, Molina's Giants crushed Mexico, 11-1 in a game that lasted until after 3:00 A.M. local time.

Yadi started the game behind the plate, hitting seventh in the order. Officially, he ended up the night 1-for-2, with one run driven in and one scored.

Against Elmer Dessens, he fanned swinging with two runners in scoring position with no out in the second inning. Next time up, Molina was the recipient of a gift double, when Florida's Alfredo Amezaga dropped a very catchable ball in centerfield in the fourth. Molina came home on a subsequent misplay by the left fielder that was scored a three-run double by Cora.

Molina's final at-bat was in the fifth. His sacrifice fly deep to center scored Puerto Rico's ninth run. Yadi exited the game in favor of his brother Jose for the final three innings.


Molina (right) scores a run

Caribbean Series – Day Two – February 3
Molina went 1-for-4 with a single and an RBI as his Puerto Rican squad defeated Venezuela 6-3 on Saturday night to go 2-0 in the six-game round-robin tournament.

Molina also made a game-changing play with his arm in the second inning, as he fired to fellow catcher Javier Valentin, who was playing first base. The throw caught Venezuelan baserunner Oscar Salazar napping to end the frame. The Venezuelans had just taken the lead and were threatening to expand their margin. Molina ended all of that.

On Sunday night, Puerto Rico takes on the Domincan Republic, also with a perfect 2-0 record. Thank God for picture-in-a-picture!

Former Cardinal Luther Hackman was charged with two runs of the nine Mexico allowed as they lost to the Dominican 9-0. Troy Cate has yet to appear for the Mexican squad in the first two games.

Caribbean Series – Day Three – February 4
Yadi made a nice play defensively to end the first as he tagged out Alex Fernandez at the plate. He walked in the second inning, but did not score and fouled out to right field in the fourth. With his club down 9-0 to the Dominicans in the fifth, he exited the game in favor of his brother Jose. Puerto Rico eventually lost 12-0.

Caribbean Series – Day Four – February 5
With defending champion Venezuela eliminated from contention in the first game, winless Mexico was facing the same fate with a loss in the nightcap. To try to stem the tide, they handed the ball to Cardinals farmhand, lefty Troy Cate.

Cate had trouble finding the strike zone in the early going, getting in significant trouble in both the first and second innings, yet no runs crossed the plate. He allowed two more baserunners in the third before getting two strikeouts including Juan Gonzalez. Armando Rios then flied out to the wall in left.

Puerto Rico finally broke through against Cate to tie the game with a pair of runs in the fourth, with the first scored by Molina, who had walked. The second run was unearned. Cate left the game after five with a no-decision having allowed six hits and two walks. He fanned four.

Coming into the game hitting .286 through three games, Molina went 1-for-3 for the night with a sacrifice, a walk and a run scored against Cate. Yadi flied out in the sixth and reached via a bloop single behind first base in the ninth. Representing the potential lead run, Molina was doubled off first on a failed bunt.

Puerto Rico took the lead in the tenth against former Cardinal Luther Hackman as Rios doubled home two. Molina was then retired 6-3 in his final at-bat. Mexico was unable to answer and was eliminated in the 4-2 loss. Puerto Rico is 3-1 in the tourney behind 4-0 Dominican Republic.

Caribbean Series – Day Five – February 6
Undefeated Dominican Republic kept the pressure on Puerto Rico by defeating winless Mexico 5-3 in the first game. With a second loss here, the home team Puerto Rico's chances of winning the Series would end.

With a runner on first base in a scoreless game in the second inning, Molina grounded into a fielders' choice, 5-4, for the third out. In the fourth inning with a runner on second and two out, Molina just missed a home run to left before fouling out.

In the sixth with PR down 1-0, Molina again came up with a runner on base with two out. Again, an inning-ending force out, 6-4. With his club down by two runs in the eighth, Molina batted with the bases loaded and one out. He fouled off two full count offerings before popping up to third base.

Yadi slammed his bat to the artificial turf in frustration as he finished an 0-for-4 night and his team was nearing elimination. With his 3-for-14 showing overall, Molina's .214 batting average is familiar territory for him.

Though they managed to score one run following Molina's out, the Puerto Ricans gave the run right back and ended up losing the game by a 3-1 score.

With one more day to play and the Dominicans holding a 5-0 record and Puerto Rico next at 3-2, the 2007 Series winner has now been decided. Congratulations to the Dominican Republic and Caribbean Series champions, Las Aguilas Cibaenas.

Caribbean Series – Day Six – February 7
Undefeated Dominican Republic had already clinched the Series, but Puerto Rico at least wanted to spoil their bid for a perfect 6-0 record. They accomplished that goal.

The final game was tied at 0-0 into the bottom of the ninth, when Javier Valentin's single scored Armando Rios to give the Puerto Ricans a 1-0 win. Jose Lima was the hard-luck loser, having gone 8 1/3 innings for the Dominicans.

When the game ended, Yadier Molina was on deck. He went 0-for-2 in the game and was hit by a Lima Time offering his other time up. Overall in the Series, Yadi batted just .188 (3-for-16).

Broadcast coverage
I have been asked by several how to watch these games. MLB.com is offering subscription service for $9.95. In addition, if you live in one of these areas, you can catch the action locally.

Channel Coverage
Fox Sports Espanol National
SportsNet New York New York
NESN Boston
MASN DC/Baltimore
Comcast Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Sacramento
Cox Sports New Orleans
SportSouth Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Greenville, Birmingham, Nashville
Catch 47 Tampa




Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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