Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sports Shock in the Caribbean

Get home late, turn on the Caribbean World Series. The potential championship game, the Caracas Leones (Lions) playing for Venezuela against the Licey Tigres (Tigers) for the Dominican Republic. Somehow, at 9:00, they're playing the 1st inning, on a game that was scheduled to begin at 7:00. Since I hadn't planned for this, and am too tired to liveblog it, I'm just sitting down and jotting down the odd note here and there.

Nice, nice, nice. D.R. gets on the board early against former (current?) Red Sock Jeremi Gonzalez, getting out to a 2-0 lead in the 1st. Venezuela threatens to come back immediately in the bottom of the inning against Juan Cruz, but are somehow stimied despite two walks in the inning.

There's no warning on the screen whether the game is live or on tape. I check MLB.com to run the gamecast on the computer while I watch. Oops, game on tape! I get a quick preview of what the game will look like in the fifth inning, while again wondering why the broadcast on YES is running so damn late.

While I'm bitching about the broadcast, I might as well mention that we're looking at the broadcast team of Sample and Leyritz again. We're also having sound problems, so Leyritz is mainly inaudible--kind of like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon, he's off-camera, you can tell that he's speaking, you can't can't make out a darn word of what he's saying. Billy Sample, with his superior diction, can be understood every other sentence, like a Brooklyn cab driver. As you'd expect with a clinching game for Venezuela in Venezuela, the crowd noise is huge, with screaming, clapping, merengue, thunder stix, and that staple of Latin American baseball, the home team's marching band doubtless causing earbleeds for miles 'round.

In Caracas's case, their brass band only plays one tune, which goes "TaaaDaaa tadatadatada TaaDaa TaaDaaa."

I have heard this at least 400 times by now. I hate it with a passion normally reserved for people who cut in line at the supermarket, or who are unkind to children and animals. I will be humming it tomorrow, in Court. I hope to have it out of my head sometime before my tenth wedding anniversary.

The teams each score a run in the fourth (sac fly for Licey, Ramon Hernandez homer for the Caracas Leones), before things get serious in the sixth inning. Scoring aside, the memorable part of this game is the defensive play. Pigpen makes a great stab into foul territory for a looping line drive. Anderson Hernandez, who's probably my favorite player of the tournament, makes a great backhand play. The Venezuelan leftfielder, Javier Herrera, makes a beautiful diving play in foul territory, into the bullpen dirt.

But the defense breaks down in the sixth inning, when Timo Perez helps Venezuela tie the game. First he flubs a leadoff base hit by Marcos Scutaro, allowing Scutaro to go to second. A couple of outs later, Jose Valverde replaces Juan Cruz. He proceeds to hit his first batter, Hernandez, and then there's a line drive to straightaway right field. For some reason, Timo! appears to be playing on the warning track against a righthanded hitter, he charges in, dives...and the ball skips past him for a triple. Scutaro and Hernandez score, tie game.

I now hate Timo! almost as much as I hate the Caracas brass band song.

Following the end of the sixth, there's some sort of bizarre delay in getting to the next inning. For a while, the screen is frozen on a long shot of the stadium in Maracay, while Sample continues to talk, Leyritz continues to mutter incomprehensively, and the song continues to play, on continuous loop: TaaaDaaa tadatadatada TaaDaa TaaDaaa!

Some sort of bizarre, and relatively unexplained scuffle has broken out on the field. For all we know, it could be Uggie Urbina breaking out of prison. It has something to do with the camera guys, one of whom helpfully hurls his camera at some guys in yellow shirts. No one knows who the guys in the yellow shirts are, because Jim Leyritz is explaining it, and hrs impossible to understand. The only thing we know for certain is that they're not baseball players, and they're not members of that marching band, who are still playing The Song.

When things get going again, the Dominicans follow the pattern of their previous confrontation with Venezuela, taking the lead on a Sandy Martinez homer. After the homer, Licey brings in crazy reliever Julian Tavarez to hold the lead, which he does in the bottom of the seventh and the eighth. In the top of the eighth and the ninth, the Dominicans squander leadoff baserunners, including a two-on, no outs situation in the ninth.

Then came one of the most shocking ends to a ballgame that I've ever seen. With Jorge Sosa on the mound, Ramon Hernandez singles to lead off the inning. The Leones sacrifice a pinch-runner over, and the pinch-runner scores on a single by Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez is caught making a wide turn for second, and the cutoff man throws to one of the middle infielders (it looks like shortstop Erick Aybar) to get Gonzalez in a rundown. Aybar(?) runs Gonzalez back toward first base, and once Gonzalez's momentum is built up to the point he can't stop Aybar(?) throws to first base...to no one. It actually looks like he might have confused Venezuela's first base coach for firstbaseman Jose Offerman. Gonzalez doesn't advance from first, but he would have been out if Licey didn't botch the run down.

Still it's one on, one out, with the bottom of the lineup coming up. Licey can still get out of this, and win the game in extra innings.

Henry Blanco, a guy with a major league batting average of .219 comes to the plate. Sosa throws a ball, then on his second pitch does his job and pops Blanco up to very short left. It's a high fly, the shortstop, Erick Aybar, goes back for the ball, and the left fielder, Napoleon Calzado, rushes in. Then, suddenly, it becomes obvious that Aybar has lost the ball. He turns to look at Calzado, who had slowed a tick trying to avoid a collision, and then tried to lunge forward to make a play. Aybar tries to get out of Calzado's way...AND THE BALL HITS HIM ON THE TOP OF THE HEAD, HARD, AND RICOCHETS PAST THE RACING CALZADO, ROLLING INTO LEFT FIELD.

The camera focuses on the ball, which looks like it will keep on rolling to the warning track, but we can hear the crowd as Gonzalez rounds the bases. No Licey fielder even enters the picture. The game is lost, and the cameras pick up Gonzalez as he's mobbed at the plate.

I am in shock. My wife comes out to see, but there is no replay. Just me staring at the TV, where a bunch of Venezuelans are having a semi-violent on-field celebration (Gonzalez is scuffling with the people who are rushing him on the field).

The last six paragraphs took me two hours to write. I feel numb, right now. Venezuela deserves the title, they were an implacable, relentless opponent in the tournament, and they grabbed two games right out of the Dominicans' hands. But that is one horrible way to lose.

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