Venezuela overcame an early lead by Spain and put up a six-run fourth inning, holding off the underdogs the rest of the way in an 11-6 victory. Both nations had already been eliminated from the World Baseball Classic, but Venezuela avoided the qualification round that Spain navigated to earn a spot in the WBC.
Spain, ranked No. 16 in the world, got off to a fantastic start against Venezuela’s Ramón A. Ramírez. With one out in the first, Paco Figueroa singled for his first hit since the qualifier and went home on a double from Yunesky Sánchez, who had 14 hits in Spain’s seven WBC games. Sánchez got to cross home plate himself a batter later after Bárbaro Cañizares blasted a fly ball that hit fair on the top of the foul pole for a two-run homer.
Richard Castillo kept Spain in the lead with a gutsy three-inning start. He had runners in scoring position with one out in all three innings, but worked around Venezuela’s vaunted hitters each time. His most impressive escape act was the third. Omar Infante led off with his second hit of the game and Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a safety of his own.
Castillo, who has reached Double-A in the St. Louis Cardinals’ system, worked the count full on Miguel Cabrera before getting the AL Triple Crown winner swinging for the second out. Pablo Sandoval, the World Series MVP in 2012, also ran the count to three balls and two strikes, but Castillo bore down and got Sandoval to strike out to end the threat.
After the rocky first, Ramírez shut down Spain for the next three innings, retiring the last five batters he faced, three by strikeout. His day would end after four frames and he gave up four hits and walked one, getting three Ks.
Venezuela had no problem with Spain’s bullpen, taking the lead for good in the fourth once Castillo left for pitch limit restrictions. Carlos González greeted reliever Chris Manno with a hit and Martín Prado had a second in the inning, but Manno looked like he might get out the predicament with a strikeout of Gerardo Prara. Álex Romero ensured that would not happen, knocking the southpaw out with a single to centre that drove in González.
Eduardo Morlán entered needing one out. The right-hander had thrown 4 2/3 scoreless innings in the WBC and was particularly impressive in Spain’s qualifying victory. Venezuela ended his final appearance quickly with three straight hits off the bats of Infante, Elvis Andrus, and Miguel Cabrera. All three safeties drove in runs, including two on the one-base hit by Andrus.
Ricardo Hernández was the next arm out of the bullpen for Mauro Mazzotti, the European Coach of the Year. The southpaw walked Sandoval and gave up a sixth run in the frame on a single by González, but finally ended the inning on a strikeout.
Spain was not stymied by the sudden 6-3 deficit, putting together a rally of its own to start the fifth. Danny Figueroa drew a walk against Álex Torres, who had come in for Ramírez. The lefty struck out Éngel Béltre and Paco Figueroa, but Sánchez continued his scorching pace with a nifty infield single.
Cañizares walked to jam the bases, and Salomón Manriquez drove in a pair with a one-base hit down the left field line against new pitcher Wil Ledezma. Ledezma, a big league veteran, got the final out, but not before Spain had narrowed the margin to 6-4.
Venezuela started to pull ahead in the sixth against the overmatched Spanish ‘pen. Spain walked two batters and hit another in the inning, though Miguel Cabrera had his second-straight RBI-single. A run-scoring walk to Miguel Montero would make it 8-5, though a twin killing induced by Iván Granados ended the threat.
Luís Sojo, manager for Venezuela, had the distinct advantage over Mazzotti in that he could bring out a succession of major league pitchers to finish the game. After a shaky fifth, Sojo’s hurlers took over to preserve the lead, retiring nine in-a-row late in the game.
Granados looked good in the seventh, but Venezuela reached Eric González in the bottom of the eighth. Cabrera and Sandoval connected for back-to-back home runs with one out, the first time in the 2013 Classic that two players have achieved the feat. Cabrera blasted his four-bagger to left, while Sandoval took his deep fly to right field.
A walk to Carlos González would also prove costly for Spain after Prado hit a RBI double, and Venezuela had an 11-5 lead going into the last frame. Béltre ripped a solo shot off closer Francisco Rodríguez, but the single run was all Spain got notch.
Venezuela’s loaded offence, which had underperformed to the tune of a .200 average in their first two games, banged out 16 hits, five for extra bases. Infante and Miguel Cabrera each had three hits to lead the squad, and Cabrera had three RBI and crossed the plate three times. Carlos González reached base four times, scoring twice. Elvis Andrus drove in a pair, scored twice and had two stolen bases. Venezuela swiped four bags in the game.
Spain collected two hits from Yunesky Sánchez, who hit .636 in pool play. The sixth-through-eighth hitters were 0-for-11 with four strikeouts as Spain failed to mount threats outside of their two big innings. Mazzotti used nine hurlers in the contest, one shy of tying the WBC record, with the starter, Castillo, the best of the lot.
Ramírez got the win and five pitchers followed. Wil Ledezma, Juan Rincón, and Ronald Belisario kept Venezuela scoreless between the sixth and eighth frames. The two latter hurlers earned holds for their effort.
Spain will have to advance through the qualifying rounds to participate in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, whereas Venezuela will still have a spot and, no doubt, be hungry to avenge what was a very subpar performance for the No. 7 team in the world rankings.
Stay tuned for the rest of the WBC action.