Before I get to Day 3 from Culiacan, I need to correct a statement I made in yesterday's column. If the Panamanian league champion plays in next season's Caribbean series, it will be the first time Panama has been represented in 58 years (since 1960), not 48 years.
ALAZANES DE GRANMA (CUBA) 6, CRIOLLOS DE CAGUAS (PUERTO RICO) 1
By the end of the third inning, the game was already 3-1 in favor of Granma, and the Cubans kept their foot on the gas. The Alazanes are all but certain to advance to the semifinals and now face two games (vs. Zulia today and Mexicali tomorrow) that will be crucial in determining their seeding. Caguas' biggest remaining game is today's early contest against Licey, which will likely decide which of the two will advance to the semifinals as the fourth seed. The Criollos' struggles continue a pattern of subpar play in the Serie spanning the last three decades. Caguas is 7-20 in Caribbean Series games since their last title in the 1986-87 season.
Fernando Cabrera (Criollos de Caguas, RP) - 1.1 IP, perfect - While the game was out of the Criollos' reach by the time that Cabrera took the mound, he still pitched well and had the best evening of any Caguas player who took the field.
Ivan De Jesus Jr. (Criollos de Caguas, SS) - 2-3, 1 BB - De Jesus had the only multi-hit effort of another dreary evening for the Criollos and got on base an additional time via walk.
Frank Del Valle (Criollos de Caguas, RP) - 2.2 IP, 3 H, 1 HBP - Del Valle came in following Jarret Leverett's disastrous start (2.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R [all earned], 1 BB, 1 K) and had the best outing of any Caguas pitcher until Cabrera got the last four outs.
William Saavedra (Alazanes de Granma, starting 1B) - 3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI - Saavedra followed up his hitless, two strikeout Serie opener with an incredible evening at the plate.
Carlos Benitez (Alazanes de Granma, 2B) - 2-3, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 Sac Fly - Benitez had the Alazanes' other multi-hit, multi-RBI effort on Friday.
Vladimir Garcia (Alazanes de Granma, SP) - W, 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R (earned), 1 BB, 2 K - The pattern of winning starters in this year's Serie allowing a lot of runners to reach base, but not many of them to score, continued in Friday's first game.
AGUILAS DE MEXICALI (MEXICO) 5, AGUILAS DEL ZULIA (VENEZUELA) 1
The score makes the game look like a blowout. In reality, it was anything but a blowout. Through eight and a half innings, the game was tied 1-1 (on 13 combined hits, this is the 2017 Serie del Caribe, after all) and the pitchers' duel looked like it might last all night. Then Pedro Rodriguez took the mound. Following a single and a sacrifice bunt/failed fielder's choice that nearly ended the game (2B Ali Castillo kept the ball from going into center field, which would have allowed leadoff hitter and Mexicali DH Luis Juarez to score), Rodriguez walked pinch hitter Jesus Castillo to load the bases with nobody out. Mexicali catcher Sebastien Valle, batting in the eight position in the batting order, stepped to the plate and hit a walk off grand slam into the left field bleachers for his second hit of the game (the other being a double in the bottom of the third). Both teams are likely to advance to the semifinals, but this walk-off win makes Mexicali the favorite to get the first seed and an easy semifinal against either Caguas or Licey.
Alex Romero (Aguilas del Zulia, DH) - 3-4 - Romero, who scored on Thursday despite not getting a hit, failed to score on Friday despite a three-hit performance.
Carlos Hernandez (Aguilas del Zulia, SP) - ND, 5.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R (earned), 1 BB (intentional), 3 K - While Rodriguez's ninth inning implosion and a lack of run support cost Zulia the game, they did nothing to diminish the quality of this pitching effort by Hernandez.
Barry Enright (Aguilas de Mexicali, SP) - ND, 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R (earned), 5 K, 1 WP - While Enright had a much better evening since his team won, this is another case of a solid start getting a no decision due to a lack of early run support.
With Day 3 of the Serie del Caribe behind us, we now head down under, where the Australian Baseball League played Game 1 of their Preliminary Final early Friday morning US time (Game 2 will likely be over by the time you read this). The Brisbane Bandits took the first game of the best-of-three 3-1. One ex-Indian played in the game. DH Mitch Nilsson went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.
That's all until tomorrow. Here's the standings and today's schedule.
STANDINGS (TOP FOUR ADVANCE TO SEMIFINALS)
Aguilas de Mexicali (Mexico) - 3-0
Alazanes de Granma (Cuba) - 2-0
Aguilas del Zulia (Venezuela) - 1-1
Tigres del Licey (Dominican Republic) - 0-2
Criollos de Caguas (Puerto Rico) - 0-3
TODAY'S SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES US EST. ALL GAMES ON ESPN DEPORTES.)
Licey vs. Caguas - 3:00 PM
Granma vs. Zulia - 7:00 PM