Note, IBI Columnist Nick Roth contributed to this report.
CRIOLLOS DE CAGUAS (PUERTO RICO) 9, AGUILAS DEL ZULIA (VENEZUELA) 6
While almost everyone assumed that winning the three-way tiebreaker and earning the first seed meant a virtual bye for the Aguilas, the Criollos had other ideas. Caguas, who went 1-3 in the round robin play and only made the semifinals by beating the hapless Tigres del Licey, scored four runs in the top of the first inning and were up 8-0 in the middle of the fifth. Zulia went on to score six runs to only one for the Criollos, but it wasn't enough to avoid the upset and elimination from the Serie. The Venezuelans pounded out 16 hits, but they were never fully able to catch up after staking Puerto Rico to a big lead. The Puerto Rican offense was firing on all cylinders as they had three different hitters record two RBIs in the game. Puerto Rico will look to win its first Caribbean Series title since 2000.
Fernando Cabrera (Criollos de Caguas, RP) - 0 IP, 1 H, 1 R (earned), 1 BB, 1 WP - Needless to say, this was not Cabrera's best day on the mound this winter.
Henry Ramos (Criollos de Caguas, CF) - 3-5, 2 R, 1 3B, 1 K - Ramos was the only Criollo with three hits in the game and the only player for either team to score multiple runs.
David Vidal (Criollos de Cagus, 3B) 2-5, R, HR, 2 RBI, SO. Vidal chipped in two of Puerto Rico’s eleven hits, and connected for a solo blast during the sixth inning.
Yadiel Rivera (Criollos de Caguas, SS) - 2-4, 2 RBI - Caguas' other multi-hit, multi-RBI effort came from the shortstop batting in the eighth spot in the order.
Orlando Roman (Criollos de Caguas, SP) - W, 5 IP, 7 H ,1 R (earned), 3 BB, 7 K - Roman's solid starting effort was likely the difference between the Criollos playing for the championship today and heading back to Puerto Rico last night. Yes, he allowed a lot of hits, but so has nearly every pitcher in this tournament. Roman was the winning pitcher Monday night, and he has allowed only one run in ten innings pitched during the Caribbean Series.
Ronny Cedeno (Aguilas del Zulia, 3B) - 2-6, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 3 K, 1 E - Cedeno had a solid day at the plate despite striking out in half of his plate appearances.
Jose Castillo (Aguilas del Zulia, 1B) - 3-5, 1 R, 2 RBI - Castillo was the other Aguila with two RBI on Monday. Castillo helped lead a late rally by Venezuela by connecting for two run single during the bottom of the 8th inning. He finishes the Serie with 5 RBI.
Jose Pirela (Aguilas del Zulia, starting LF) - 3-5, 2 2B - Pirela picked up his first two extra-base hits of the Serie in his final game of the tournament.
AGUILAS DE MEXICALI (MEXICO) 1, ALAZANES DE GRANMA (CUBA) 0
This was the first true pitchers' duel of the Serie. Not only was there only one run scored, but the teams combined for only seven hits (as many as the winning pitcher in the first semifinal allowed in five innings), with no hitter getting more than one. The biggest hit of the game came in the bottom of the fifth when Mexicali 3B Agustin Murillo singled to left field to score starting RF Ronnier Mustelier, who walked to lead off the inning and advanced to third base on a throwing error by Granma starting 3B Yunior Paumier. Aguilas starter Miguel Pena earned the win by dominating the Alazanes, allowing only two hits and a walk while striking out four in five innings. Reliever Daniel Rodriguez earned the hold by striking out five batters in three perfect innings, while closer Jake Sanchez picked up the save, striking out one batter and walking another in a scoreless ninth.
The Cuban pitching staff was impressive as well. Starter Lazaro Blanco had a better outing than many winning pitchers in this year's Serie, going seven innings while allowing only one earned run on four hits. He walked three (one intentional) and struck out five Mexicali hitters. Reliever Livan Moinelo allowed a hit and struck out one in the eighth frame.
Aguilas de Mexicali will look to keep the recent strong tradition Mexico has had in the series final. Four of the last six Caribbean Series champions have been from Mexico.
Agustin Murillo (Aguilas de Mexicali, 3B) 1-3, RBI, SO. Murillo drove in the only run of the game via a single in the 5th inning.
Miguel Pena (Aguilas de Mexicali, SP) 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, BB, 4 SO, W. Pena tossed a gem in his lone Caribbean Series start picking up the win.
Ronnier Mustelier (Aguilas de Mexicali, RF) 1-2, R, BB. Mustelier was one of five Mexican players to record a hit, and he would score the winning run during the 5th inning.
Lazaro Blanco (Alazanes de Granma, SP) 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO. Blanco was the tough luck loser Monday night, and his overall record at the Caribbean Series fell to 1-1.
So this sets up today's big game. The Criollos de Caguas vs. the Aguilas de Mexicali for the Caribbean title. The game is at 9:00 PM US EST and can be seen live on ESPN3 in the United States. ESPN Deportes will air the game on tape delay at 11:00 PM (game is not live on ESPN Deportes due to a conflict with a Mexican League soccer game). I will be back tomorrow with a recap of the Final, which will be the last ATF column of the offseason.