From eight teams, the Venezuelan League is reduced to five for the Round Robin series which began Saturday night. For the next three weeks, every team will play each opponent four times. The team with the best record then represents Venezuela in the Caribbean Series, to be held in historic Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, this year.
The semifinals began with a bang. In Anzoategui, Alexi Amarista and Balbino Fuenmayor (best name in baseball) hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the seventh, Amarista’s good for three runs, as the Caribes came from behind to beat Magallanes 8-7. Fuenmayor played all of last summer for Les Capitales de Quebec (Canadian-American Association), a long way from his Valencia birthplace.
In Maracay, Yankees prospect Ramon Flores had a game for the ages in a wild 12-11 victory for the Tigres against visiting Zulia. Having already hit a grand slam and a double, Ramon negotiated a bases-full walk to win the game in the bottom of the ninth for the resilient bengals. The florid Flores wound up with seven RBI.
On Sunday night, led by the Major League bats of Jose Pirela, Freddy Galvis and Ender Inciarte, the Eagles of Zulia beat the tired Tiburones of La Guaria 3-1. Houston, Texas native Roy Merrit pitched a fine five innings for the home side. Portsider Merrit, at age 29, has taken the mound in Brooklyn, Binghamton, and Buffalo (New York Mets minor league way stations), and last year put out fires for the Tabasco Olmecas of the Mexican League.
The fabulous shortstop Alcides Escobar of KC Royals fame should take the field for the Tiburones early next week. Ender Inciarte of Zulia and Avisail Garcia of Aragua have been given permission by the Diamondbacks and White Sox, respectively, to continue playing in the Round Robin phase. The long arm of MLB called Wilson Ramos of Maracay back to Washington, D.C. briefly to meet with the Nationals, but he’s slated to return in a few days.
Odubel Herrera, La Guaira’s mainstay in centerfield, won the batting title as a rookie this season with a .372 average. The Phillies plucked the 23-year-old from the Texas system this week (he led the Texas League in hitting last season, too) and are eager to see what he can do with the rebuilding team.
Johan Santana, whom we’re all rooting for, threw 45 pitches in a simulated game this week. Who’ll give the two-time Cy Young winner a chance in February?