DOMINICAN WINTER LEAGUE:
Following a 72-hour rain delay, the Dominican Winter League final series was back under way Monday, five in the afternoon local time. The wait was long for Game 4 of the extended-cab, best-of-nine series which this season pits two historic heavyweights Tigres del Licey and Águilas Cibaeñas
Pressure is building on these two contenders to wrap things up before the ninth round (although it can be asserted that each opponent has a different idea of who shall land the knockout punch) for the annual Caribbean Series begins Friday, and the winner of the DWL serie will be tasked with taking on the victors of the Venezuelan, Cuban, and Puerto Rican competitions.
Águilas roll into action up 2-1 in the series, grabbing a win apiece on the road in Santo Domingo and back at home in Santiago. Game 1 was a blowout made possible by six solid innings from Michael Roth and big nights from corner infielders Edwin Espinal and Johan Camargo. Each drove in three, the erstwhile Braves third baseman Camargo getting his on a homer. The outfit from the Cibao region snatched a comeback win in Game 2, powered by jonrónes from Camargo and outfielders Junior Lake and Danny Santana. Licey got some home cooking going in Game 3, eeking it out in ten innings on a walk-off single from Chris Roberson.
Save for a skirmish in the seventh, Monday evening was drama-free. The outcome became pitiably less in doubt as Licey’s early advantage ballooned into a 10-1 margin of victory. Nonetheless, the lineups were peppered some of baseball’s most interesting characters, some more familiar than others the North American eye.
Licey’s starter Jair Jurrjens, a typical Curaçaoan in that he is fluent in five or so languages, not so typical in that he isn’t a middle infielder of gold glove caliber. Jurrjens will be remembered fondly but not without a twinge of regret in Detroit and Atlanta, where a once-promising big league career was felled by elbow problems, turning Jair into a journeyman; there’s the gregarious former shortstop Erick Aybar, a longtime Angel now at second, having found himself usurped by the even slicker Tigers prospect Sergio Alcántara; the hefty designated hitter Yermín Mercedes, a lapsed catcher, could most recently be seen plying his trade with Frederick in the Carolina League and Delmarva in the Sally. His left-handed hitting foil, the first baseman Juan Francisco, could be seen driving balls in the majors not so long ago.
Utility man Emilio Bonifácio, a centerfielder this night, has quietly found a spot on an MLB roster for a decade now and is not giving up the life just yet; in the other dugout are a couple Brewers, infielder Jonathan Villar and catcher Christian Bethancourt. Bethancourt was a minor curiosity during his time with San Diego, moonlighting as a relief pitcher. Villar, though Monday’s shortstop, is trying to hold on to his job as Milwaukee’s starting second baseman as they somewhat surprisingly bolster their lineup for 2018. Bethancourt is trying to sneak onto the 25.
The Tigres got to Roth before dark, grabbing one in the first on Yamaico Navarro’s RBI double and two more in the second on a single by Alcántara. Roth was pulled in the third following an Aybar single and another Navarro double, and reliever Ranfi Casimiro promptly brought them home, throwing a wild pitch and clanking the ensuing toss from the catcher. Mercedes put an exclamation point on the outburst, launching a no-doubter over the left-field wall and doing a half-pirouette in admiration on his way to first.
The home team added another three spot in the sixth off Irwin Delgado, their parade of singles aided by an error from second baseman Ronny Rodríguez. Emotions flared in the seventh when Mercedes was plunked by Samuel Deduno, leading to a pair of ejections. Jurrjens pitched into the that inning, allowing only an unearned run en route to a win.
The series is now at an impasse, the teams heading back up to Santiago for a Tuesday double-header.