Game 29
International Championship

4 vs. Mexico 0
Saturday, August 28, 2004
2:00PM ET

Profar, so good
Pitcher fires one-hitter to give Curacao first International Championship in four tries

By Mike Lipka

Supposedly, Carlos Pineda is Curacao’s No. 1 pitcher.

But those who saw Jurickson Profar’s one-hit shutout in the International Championship against Mexico might beg to differ.

“In the [Caribbean] regionals, [Profar] was the first pitcher, before Carlos,” said Curacao coach Michelangelo Celestina through translator Carlos Pagan. “He threw today as he threw in Curacao.”

In Curacao, he must have been overpowering, because Saturday he only allowed Oscar Garza’s fifth-inning single to left and struck out 12 to lead the Caribbean to a 4-0 win before 18,380 at Lamade Stadium. The Pabao Little League from Willemstad, Curacao will now play for the World Championship Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Lamade against the U.S. champion (either Texas or California).

“We never came so far,” Celestina said. “It would be a great honor for us to win the World Championship.”

But even winning Saturday was a great honor for a tiny island that has been to this level all three years since the Caribbean was represented in South Williamsport, but has fallen each year to the team from Asia. Curacao (5-0) took care of Chinese Taipei in the International semifinals this year, and had no problem advancing to the final game over Mexico.

And that was largely because of Profar. The 5-foot-5-inch righty was far from perfect, walking five and putting at least two men on base in the first, fourth and fifth during his 107-pitch (65-strike) complete game.

He even loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth on a pair of walks and a fielder’s choice that did not produce an out. But as was the case much of the day, the fastball and the strikeout – this one the third of the inning – got him out of it.

“In the fourth and fifth innings, I felt I had to get out by striking out the batters,” said Profar through Celestina and Pagan. “The manager [Vernon Isabella] asked if I could strike out the batter [in the fourth], and I did.”

Profar was able to do it because he got his fastball back, after he didn’t have total control of it in his first start of the tournament. Saturday, he struck out six batters in a row at one point to blow through the second and third innings, en route to his second win. He has now tossed 12 1/3 innings in South Williamsport, allowing just six hits and no earned runs.

“I knew that he was going to pitch very well,” Celestina said. “He didn’t have his fastball in [his first start of the World Series].”

The funny thing is, Curacao didn’t have their game Saturday, but it didn’t matter. The Caribbean squad, whose offense thrives on bunting and speed, tried to lay down a pair of bunts in the first and failed against Mexican hurler Ismael Garcia.

“We couldn’t bunt, so we won by hitting the ball,” Celestina said.

And he meant hitting the ball. After Garcia retired the first two batters of the second inning on two pitches, Dimitri Eugenia ripped a 0-1 pitch the other way into Curacao’s bullpen area beyond the right-field fence.

For Eugenia, who had been 0-5 in the tournament with five strikeouts, the eventual game-winning home run had to feel especially good.

“After five strikeouts, the pitcher will not throw that hard,” Eugenia said through Celestina and Pagan. “He thinks I’m going to strike out again.”

But it was Curacao who struck again, this time with the longball in the fourth. Jonathan Schoop led off with a single, and Pineda then pulled an inside fastball hard over the left-field fence, flipped his bat aside and took a few walking strides toward first before breaking into his home-run trot.

“The first time at bat, I knew I was going to hit a home run,” Pineda said through Celestina and Pagan. “I am a good fastball hitter.”

The 5-foot-11-inch slugger was an absolute bane to Mexico (3-2) this week. Curacao was the only team to beat the Mexicans, and they did it in pool play 3-2 behind Pineda’s 5 2/3 innings on the hill and three-run homer at the plate.

“We practice a lot with the fastball on the outside corner,” Celestina said. “The Mexicans throw a lot of fastball on the outside corner.”

Pineda’s shot was on an inside pitch, but no matter where it is this week, he’s hitting it – he’s now 7-for-10 overall, with three homers and seven RBIs. But his most important task Sunday will not be with his bat but his arm, as he will get the start against a vaunted U.S. champion no matter who wins Saturday night.

And he’s still thinking about hitting the ball.

“We are going to hit the fastball,” he said.

But the shortstop Schoop, who capped the scoring Saturday with an RBI double in the fifth, knows the truth.

“If we get good pitching, we will win,” Schoop said through the translators.

Then, you can forget Profar or Pineda debate. The whole Curacao team would be No. 1.

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© 2004 Little League Baseball Incorporated