Sunday, February 7, 2016

Vazquez hits walkoff HR, Venados win Caribbean Series title

Jorge Vazquez (pictured) belted a Renee Cortez pitch for a walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to hand the Mazatlan Venados a 5-4 win over Venezuela's Aragua Tigres in Sunday's title game at the 2016 Caribbean Series in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  The roundtripper completed a Mazatlan comeback after the Tigres took a 4-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning as the Venados won their second CS title, giving Mexico its fourth crown at Latin America's baseball showcase since 2011.

Aragua's Freddy Garcia and Mazatlan's Eddie Gamboa hooked up in a low-scoring duel at the game's start, with the former Mariners All-Star allowing two Venados runs into the sixth inning and Gamboa likewise giving up a pair of Tigres runs before running into trouble in the seventh.

Mazatlan got on the board in the third when Esteban Quiroz scored from second on Chris Roberson's single to left and then Roberson, who moved to third on a Jeremias Pineda bunt, came in when Garcia let go with a wild pitch to Justin Greene.  The Venezuelans knotted it up at 2-2 in the top of the sixth when Jose Martinez' leadoff single to center was followed by a Hernan Perez line-drive homer to left off Gamboa.

Gamboa's troubles really got started in the seventh when he began by striking out Martinez, who was able to reach first when strike three fooled Mazatlan catcher Sebastian Valle.  Perez then singled up the middle, both runners advanced on Sandy Leon's bunt and Jose Martinez strolled in from third on Teodoro Martinez' single to right, giving Aragua a 3-2 lead.  Perez tried coming in from second on the play but Pineda's throw from right nailed him at the plate for the inning's second out while Leon scooted to second.  At that point, Jovany Lopez relieved Gamboa and promptly walked Juniel Querecuto on five pitches, loading the hassocks.  That brought up Alex Romero, whose flyout to Greene in center was enough to bring Perez in from third and increase the Tigres' lead to two.

It was Aragua's turn to be snakebitten in the bottom of the seventh when, with two out, Gumercindo Gonzalez gave up a single to right by Yuniesky Betancourt.  No great harm done, but Gonzalez was then replaced by Arcenio Leon to pitch to Esteban Quiroz.  Quiroz tapped a comebacker to Leon, who made a throw to first for the third out that was missed by Felix Perez, allowing Betancourt and Quiroz to motor to third and second, respectively.  At that point, Jesus Sanchez was brought in for Perez to get the final out but instead gave up a two-run single to Valle, scoring both Betancourt and Quiroz to bring the score to 4-4.
Jeremias Pineda was eventually retired on a 6-3 groundout off a pitch from Jose Miljares, the fourth Tigres pitcher of the inning.

After neither team scored in the eighth and Steven Hensley got the Tigres' third out in the top of the ninth, Vazquez (a Venados postseason reinforcement from Culiacan) led things off for Mazatlan in the bottom of the frame.  After working the count to 2-0, the 33-year-old former Yankees minor leaguer redirected a Cortez delivery over the wall in left-center for the walkoff win.

Garcia finished with 5.1 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out three for the Tigres.  Gamboa tossed 6.1 frames and let in four runs (two unearned) on eight hits, including Perez' homer.  The Venezuelans actually outhit Mazatlan by a 12-7 margin as Vazquez and Roberson each posted two hits on the day.  Hensley earned the win after pitching to just one batter while Cortez was tagged with the loss under partly cloudy skies and a game time temperature of 81 degrees.

The win marks the second for the Venados under manager Juan Jose Pacho, who also led Mazatlan to the CS crown in 2005 at home.