Yaquis rally late to upset Venezuela
by Jason Beck
Reggie Taylor's first Caribbean Series is an experience he'll never forget. His finale will make it easier to remember the stats.
"I had a blast," Taylor said. "I guess it's just like getting drafted all over again for your first time and playing your first professional game. That's what it felt like. I was nervous the whole time."
Like his teammates on the Mexican champion Yaquis de Obregon, Taylor saved his best for last. A ninth-inning rally spurred the Yaquis to a surprise victory for the second straight day, and Taylor's two-run triple capped the five-run surge with the eventual deciding runs for a 7-5 win over the Tigres de Aragua Thursday at Estadio Cibao.
For the Yaquis, it was a solid cap to a Caribbean Series in which they had been winless through four games. For Taylor, it was a nice way to return to the states after spending the better part of a year playing ball either in Mexico or for Mexico.
Taylor was added to the Yaquis as a reinforcement after batting .345 in the Mexican Summer League and then hitting 12 home runs in 65 games this winter. Yet until Thursday, the former Major Leaguer's Caribbean Series performance had been virtually a zero. He was 0-for-20 with seven strikeouts through the first five games, and though he had played a role in the Yaquis' three-run ninth against Licey on Wednesday, he scored after reaching base on a Ronnie Belliard error.
With one more game left, he ended his hitless skid with a ground-ball single to right field his first time up. His final time up he sent the ball a lot further and provided the difference to withstand an Aragua comeback at the end.
Aragua starter Jose Santiago's six innings of two-run ball and Yaquis reliever Rolando Valdez's 4 1/3 scoreless innings set the tone for a game that didn't see any runs scored from the fifth inning until that decisive ninth. Santiago and two relievers retired 10 of 12 Yaquis batters from the fifth inning through the eighth.
A leadoff double from Albino Contreras began the threat off of lefty Andrew Lorraine. After an Augustin Murillo sacrifice, Aragua elected to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Alfredo Amezaga and set up a double play for Diamondbacks infielder Oscar Robles. He thwarted those plans by delivering a line drive into left field to break the tie score.
From there, the Mexican offense erupted, much as it had against previously unbeaten Licey. Carlos Padilla singled in Amezaga off reliever Victor Moreno and scored on Roberto Saucedo's single. Taylor ended most of the doubt with a deep line drive over the head of Aragua center fielder Alberto Callaspo to clear the bases.
"Me personally, my stats weren't what I wanted them to be," Taylor said, "but I know I'm a better ballplayer than that. We won as a team and lost as a team. I gave 110 percent. I'm proud of that."
His 110 percent provided the difference in the score. Aragua rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning, but fell short when Francisco Rodriguez -- not to be confused with the Angels closer -- induced Selwyn Langaigne into a game-ending double play.
Taylor finished the game 2-for-5 with a walk, two RBIs and a run scored. Then, while he gave his best wishes to Licey players and former big league teammates Edwin Encarnacion and Belliard, he almost immediately looked forward to going home for a couple of weeks before reporting to Spring Training. After spending so long away from home, he has an invitation to camp with Atlanta, the team closest to his South Carolina home.
"I'm going to cherish this," Taylor said of this past year. "I'm going to go over there and give it my best and hope it'll work out for the best with the Braves."
Aragua, the Venezuelan League champion whose roster had been decimated with 15 losses prior to the Caribbean Series, had a chance to finish tied for second with a win and an Aguilas loss in the nightcap vs. Licey. Instead, Mexico -- which had won just once in its last 16 Caribbean Series games entering Wednesday since winning the tournament in 2005 -- tied Aragua for third place in the standings.
"Even the games that we lost, they were close games," Taylor said. "We really didn't get blown out. But we kept fighting and kept fighting and never gave up. Everybody was still playing ball. I think our manager is proud of that."