Rhode Island Salty Dogs 4, Team Puerto Rico 3

‘Complete Game Effort by Clark Stymies Puerto Rican National Team’

By Elliot Brownstein, special to MSBL

A cool, crisp and beautiful day that saw sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 60’s also welcomed one the most intense MSBL match ups that day.

The Rhode Island Salty Dogs and Puerto Rico Cardinals took the field early to get the championship game jitters out of the way.

Though the game started with a Steve Mineo single to left field, the tough Cardinal defense turned a double play and ended the top of the inning with a sweet sliding catch by Jose Ponce.

Ponce lead off for the Cardinals getting an infield single after Jim Foster bobbled the catch but was eventually tagged out at second when he was caught stealing.

Top of the second gave the Salty Dogs the lone run through seven innings as Jim Foster lead off the inning with a single right down the pipe. Darryl Morehardt hit a hopper to third to force a fielder’s choice Foster was able to make it home safely.

Jimmy Clark of the Salty Dogs continued the domination on the mound as he made quick work through six innings. The Cardinals only had two hits off of Clark though six but only struck out once during that span which meant the team was making great contact on the ball, but the timing was not there to convert to hits or runs.

Larry Guzman of the Puerto Rico Cardinals pitched one heck of a game himself. Besides the one-run inning in the second, Guzman and his powerful defense turned many three-up three-down innings.

This match up was a battle of pitchers to the core as the Cardinals were able to tie the game in the seventh at one with a two-out situation. It wasn’t until the ninth inning that now or never instincts kicked in for both teams.

Once again, the most important play started with the leadoff batter. In the top of the ninth Sean Dupre popped straight up to the catcher, but the Florida sun caused catcher Henry Martinez Ruiz to lose the ball and plop into fair territory.

Steve Mineo ripped one to deep center field over both outfielders’ heads for a stand-up double scoring advancing Dupre to third. McGee tapped a dribbler to shortstop and with his speed, was able to make it to first without an attempted throw by Jose Vazquez Otero.

The Cardinals felt the based loaded pressure by the Salty Dogs and quickly replaced Guzman with Wilson Reyes Berrios to hopefully close the inning without allowing a run.

That seemed promising as Berrios first batter, Mike Lunardelli, popped one up to the infield keeping all runners in check on their respective base.

But the Salty Dogs didn’t let that hiccup prevent them from wanted to take the lead. Jim Foster smacked the ball down the third base line and off the bullpen wall for a good lateral misdirection to score in Dupre and Mineo to give the Salty Dogs a 3-1 lead. Izzy Gonzales notched in another run to give the team a 4-3 lead scoring Foster before the inning ending with a Baptista ground out.

Baseball wouldn’t be the greatest sport if it there wasn’t drama, right? Well the Puerto Rico Cardinals brought the game to its peak dramatization in the bottom of the ninth with their backs against the wall.

After a leadoff single by Ponce, Louis Ramos Torres sneakily got to first base safely after a grounder to second was bobbled and a throw was not attempted. Another hit by the Cardinals saw Aguirre safely get to first a notch in an RBI scoring Ponce to close the gap by two runs. Jose Delgado hit one straight to the mound to force the lead running out at third base, but a bad throw base to first caused Aquirre to race home to bring the deficit to only one run with the tying run advancing to third.

Pitcher Jimmy Clark was feeling the heat in the ninth still needing to get two more outs. But a wipe to the forehead with his sleeve kept him poised and ready to close his complete game with a win. Ahmed Rodriguez flied out to shallow center field, but not deep enough to have Delgado tag and score the tying run. One more out to go. Willie Morales ripped one to first base with Jim Foster right there, though with a slight bobble and rough pick up that could only remind you of Billy Buckner in the 1986 World Series, but he finally snatched the ball and tagged first for the final out.

“Team effort by everybody, the Puerto Rico team gave us everything, they had a solid defense, we are very fortunate to get a win,” Salty Dog Coach Noah Clark said after the game.

“This is probably the biggest win of my career,” said winning pitcher Jimmy Clark about the victory.  “I knew this Puerto Rico National team was good. I went into this game with a game plan and I had a good defense to back me up.”