The Caribes of Anzoátegui beat all comers between Monday and Friday: the Gigantes of the Dominican Republic; the Tomateros (tomato growers) of Culiacán, Mexico; the Cangrejeros (crabbers) of Santurce, Puerto Rico; the Vegueros (tobacco growers) of Rio de Pinar, Cuba. Any form of foreign produce was vanquished by the mighty tribe of eastern Venezuela. Then came Saturday.
There have been observations about the ever-changing format of the Serie del Caribe, but the sudden-death semifinal does add a bit of drama. If not, the Venezuelans would have been celebrating in their hotel rooms on Friday night. Nonetheless, the Caribes jumped ahead of Cuba’s tobacconists early on Saturday night, but a few base-running blunders may have cost some additional runs. That didn’t seem to matter as long as lanky American righty Daryl Thompson was in the game, but when he tired in the sixth, the floodgates opened.
Frederich Cepeda-late of Japan’s Yomiuri Giants– then walloped a triple off Brazilian reliever Tiago Da Silva to plate two teammates, and then scored when Orlando Arcia’s throw to third went awry and no Caribe backed up the play. From 4-0 to 4-3 in a heartbeat. The history: this is the same Frederich Cepeda who beat Venezuela in the 2006 World Baseball Classic with a home run. Now aged 35 and not looking so svelt in the Cuban pajama-like red-and-white uniform (who looks good in red pants?), Big Fred can still hit a ton–he had two doubles, a triple, a single and five RBI as Cuba plated eight runs in two innings against the suddenly susceptible relievers of Venezuela. Adios, muchachos. (Cuba won one game during the week and scored seven runs in four games.)
Sunday’s final brought more late-inning drama, with Yuliesky Gourriel’s eighth-inning bomb enough to fight off the Tomateros’ late surge; Cuba 3, Mexico 2. For the first time in 55 years, the Caribbean Series has a Cuban champion. A harbinger of things to come? From the Olympic Games to any sort of international play, Castro’s nation knows how to win tournaments–which Venezuela found out the hard way on Saturday night.
The Caribes finished all competitions this year with a total of 58 wins, equalling the Venezuelan record set by the Cardenales de Lara in ’97-98 and the Tigres of Aragua in ’06-07. Congrats are in order to manager Omar Lopez, who was rewarded with a new contract, along with his entire staff.