Game 18
Latin America
3 vs. Canada

Monday, August 21, 2006
6:00PM ET

Cleaning Up
Whether Toeing the Rubber or Swinging for the Fences, Venezuela’s Valera Just Can’t Miss

By Allie Weinberger
Special Correspondent

Roberto Valera had quite the day.

Just eight hours after knocking in the winning run to finish a 1-0 rain-delayed victory over Saipan on Monday, the 5-foot-4 righthander took the mound to face the Canadian champs from Surrey, B.C., and led his team to a 3-2 win that vaulted the Latin American All-Stars to 2-0 in pool play.

Canada pitcher Kristopher Robazza started off strong, striking out the first two batters he faced. But it was Valera who would draw first blood. Rallying behind a Manuel Barrios infield single, Valera took Robazza yard to right-center field for a two-out, two-run homer.

“I was happy to get that home run,” Valera said through interpreter Dr. Luis Sanchez. “It was even better because I was pitching. I was very happy because I helped my team.”

Still, it was an unearned run in the third that sealed the deal for Valera and his team. After a fielding error by third baseman Jeff Bouchard allowed Eduardo Perozo to reach first with no outs, second baseman Brenny Dornblut got the inning’s first out when he grabbed a scorcher off the bat of Barrios. The fielder’s choice left runners at the corners with just one out for Valera. The pitcher did not disappoint, sending an RBI single up the middle to score Perozo. That would be all the Venezuelan team would need to clinch the victory and assure itself a spot in the next round.

But the Surrey squad wasn’t short on chances to fight its way back. With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, Greg Finley had an opportunity to dig his team out of a two-run hole. But Valera, showing his dominance from the other side of the plate, got Finley to chase a high pitch, striking out the side.

“I think he threw very well,” Canadian manager Joe Burns said of Valera. “He hit the strike zone and was very fast.”

Canada finally got on the board in the bottom of the third after an RBI single from shortstop Justin Atkinson brought special pinch runner Mitchell Comeau around to score. But Venezuela got out of the inning without further damage, maintaining a 3-1 lead.

Another Canadian opportunity came in the bottom of the fourth when Robazza hit a ground-rule double to left-center field. Two batters later, Austin Vetterl reached on an error by Latin American shortstop Ermison Arellano, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate in first baseman Braeden Smith. But Valera got the number nine hitter to strike out looking, good for his seventh strikeout of the evening.

Canada’s best defensive play came in the top of the sixth, when Wraunher Sanchez popped a bunt back to reliever Jeff Bouchard with a runner on first. Bouchard managed to glove the pop-up, turn and flip the ball to first before Alexander Martinez could get back to the bag. Bouchard continued to dominate the inning by striking out Jeferson Pina, a strikeout which not only allowed Canada to keep the deficit at 3-1 heading into the final three outs, but also shifted the momentum to the Canadian side for the first time.

Bouchard led off the bottom of the sixth, looping a single into shallow right field. Robazza, who went 3-for-3 on the day, followed his lead, slicing a hopper past Arellano and into left to put runners on second and third.

“We were nervous when they had two runners on, but we were ready to get the outs,” said Venezuelan manager Domingo Carrasquel through the team interpreter. “[The team was] playing with heart, so I was confident they would get the outs.”

With one out, Talon Van Horn stepped to the plate representing the winning run for Canada. But Valera wouldn’t let up, forcing Van Horn to slap a grounder back to the mound. While the hit scored Bouchard, it caught Robazza off the bag at second. Caught in a rundown, Robazza made the third and final out of the game.

“We just couldn’t come up with that timely hit,” said Burns. “I thought we were going to pull it out there. Unfortunately we couldn’t pull out another hit. That’s the way it goes. A few grounders and some bad base running and it’s over.”

Valera finished the day striking out nine and going 3-for-3 with a homer and four RBI.


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