Licey wins 10th Caribbean Series title
Beat fellow Dominican team Aguilas, 8-2, for the championship
SANTIAGO, Dominican Republic -- Officially, the contest between the Licey Tigres and the Aguilas Cibaenas Thursday was heralded as the finale of the 2008 Caribbean Series, but it could have been a Winter League playoff game.
Or a regular-season match-up. The yellow Aguilas flags popped like firecrackers in the wind, Tigres fans in blue T-shirts peppered the stands, and on top of the dugouts, cheerleaders garbed neutrally -- in the country's red, white and blue colors -- entertained the crowd by dancing merengue in between innings as always.
Children danced. Men hollered and women clapped. And that's just in the press box. The action in the bleachers was carnival-like, fitting for the biggest baseball game/festival of the year.
In the end, the boisterous fans, the blaring music throughout the Estadio Cibao, and more importantly, the play on the field all lived up to expectation in the country's biggest rivalry game as the Tigres finished off the Aguilas, 8-2, to finish on top of the round-robin standings for the championship. The victory marked the 10th Caribbean Series title for the historic franchise and the second time Licey had beaten regular-season champion Aguilas in less than a week.
The Tigres, ranked as the No. 2 Dominican team in the tourney, finished the round-robin with a 5-1 record with their only loss coming to Mexico in extra innings Wednesday. With the loss, the Aguilas finished play 3-3, just ahead of Venezuela's Tigres de Aragua and Mexico's Yaquis de Obregon, who each finished with identical 2-4 records.
"We played good baseball and this is what happens when you do that," Licey manager Hector De La Cruz said. "The Aguilas are a good team but this is baseball. You play hard every night and do things right you can win."
Considering Estadio Cibao is the Aguilas' home stadium, not everybody left the park in a good mood. Barking and good old-fashion taunting between rival fans was commonplace by the ninth inning.
The Aguilas, the 2007 Caribbean Series champions, were hoping to defend their title but will have to settle for first runner-up in the first tournament that featured two teams from the Dominican Republic. The title was Licey's first since 2004 when Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta led the team.
Acta would be proud. Local fans, despite the loss, should not be too disappointed. A team from the Dominican Republic has won the Caribbean Series title 17 times, the most among teams currently competing in the tournament, since 1970 and 11 times since 1990.
The night belonged to the Tigres.
Licey scored first in the second inning when Jose Batista led off the frame with a walk and came home on a double by Detroit's Timo Perez for a 1-0 lead. The Tigres tacked on another run in the third when Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz drove home Diamondbacks infielder Emilo Bonifacio with a single to left field for the 2-0 lead.
A two-run home run by Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal off Colorado's Jose Capellan tied the game at two in the bottom half of the fourth but Licey broke the game open with a four-run fourth inning.
In the eventful fourth, Bonifacio and Angels shortstop Erick Aybar each drove in a run while Mets infielder Juan Francisco plated them both with a single to center field to extend Licey's lead to 6-2.
"I don't have the words to describe what I am feeling right now," Bonifacio said. "The Aguilas are a good team and to do what we did to them is not easy. That team is full of stars. I think you can see that we have a few stars on our team, too."
Caribbean Series Most Valuable Player Ramon Ortiz pitched five innings of scoreless relief to stymie the Aguilas offense. He finished the Caribbean Series with a 2-0 record, pitching 11 2/3 scoreless innings against the Aguilas.
"The pitching was great the whole time so it was not just me," Ortiz said. "I was just able to keep the ball down and it worked against a good team. The fans were great tonight. I thank them and I thank God for the night we had tonight. This is what we came here for."
Licey added two runs in the top of the ninth inning to seal the victory.
"It's the first time they played the Caribbean Series in Santiago so maybe this gives hope to other cities who want to have it, too," Aguilas shortstop T.J. Pena said. "At least the championship will stay in the Dominican this year."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.