HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- The Dominican Republic's Leones del Escogido, a powerhouse team looking to win back-to-back titles, is once again dominating the Caribbean Series, winning five of its first six games and locking up a spot in the championship two days early.
But they're also in the middle of controversy here at Estadio Sonora, with gripes over compensation and the new format.
Throughout the tournament, Escogido players -- though not so much those who come from Major League organizations -- have taken issue with their team's organizers, alleging that they were promised more than they're being paid for their participation in the Caribbean Series and threatening to boycott.
On Wednesday, it almost came to a head.
Right up until game time -- with both lineups announced over the PA system, the anthems being played and Venezuela's Navegantes de Magallanes on the field -- Escogido was nowhere to be found. The entire team was in the clubhouse, having a players-only meeting regarding their compensation. Players say they were promised 15 days of pay, but are only going to be paid for seven days, plus practices and travel dates -- which adds up to 10 or 11 days.
At 4 p.m. MT, Escogido players rushed into the dugout, put on their helmets and went to the on-deck circle to hit as the visiting team without even warming up. They wound up eliminating Venezuela with a 4-2 win, and the game started only five minutes later than scheduled.
But the issue remained unresolved.
Escogido players are expected to meet with the club's higher-ups later Wednesday night, and a couple of players said they expect to come to an agreement prior to the championship, which will take place at 7 p.m. MT on Thursday.
"That's something between the team and organizers of the [Dominican Professional Baseball League]," shortstop Miguel Tejada said in Spanish. "I expect it to get resolved."
Escogido is also the victim of a new format.
In prior years, the Caribbean Series champ was the team with the best record after six days of double-round-robin play. This year, though, a championship game is being held, pitting the team with the best record against the team with the second-best record. Some Escogido players don't think that's fair, given that they'll go into the championship 5-1 and their opponent, Mexico, is 3-3.
"I don't think that has been a good decision on the part of the organizers of the Caribbean Series," veteran infielder Julio Lugo said in Spanish. "I don't think a team that has won [five] games should be knocked out by a team that has won only three. It's not right. I don't think that's been managed well."
Host Mexico to face DR for Caribbean Series title
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- The people of Mexico got what they wanted: their team facing off against the powerhouse Dominicans for the Caribbean Series championship.
And they have Royals pitcher Luis Mendoza to thank.
Mendoza held Puerto Rico hitless through seven, before a leadoff double in the bottom of the eighth, and finished hurling 7 1/3 shutout innings, leading Mexico's Yaquis de Obregon to a 10-0 thrashing on Wednesday and setting up a matchup against the Dominican Republic's Leones del Escogido in the final.
Thursday's championship, the first of its kind in a Caribbean Series that used to be strictly double round robin, will take place at 7 p.m. MT, in front of an Estadio Sonora crowd desperate to see Mexico win a title while hosting the Caribbean Series for the first time since '05.
Mexican Rodrigo Lopez, who pitched 11 years in the Majors, will face off against Dominican Angel Castro.
"This is for the team," Mendoza said in Spanish. "We're one team, and everyone deserves this victory."
Obregon, the champion in 2011 and making its third straight trip to the Caribbean Series, is 3-3 and needed the win over Puerto Rico's Criollos de Caguas (2-4) to secure a trip to the final.
Escogido, searching for its second straight title and third in four years, is 5-1 and clinched a spot in the title with an 11-6 win over Obregon on Tuesday. Earlier on Wednesday, it beat Venezuela's Navegantes de Magallanes, 4-2, thanks to a go-ahead two-run homer by first baseman Francisco Pena in the top of the ninth.
Venezuela, whose last Caribbean Series title came in '09, finished 2-4.
One start removed from tossing six shutout innings, Mendoza gave up two hits on four walks and nine strikeouts in an outing that saw him expend 113 pitches. Heading into the eighth, he had retired 10 of his last 11 batters, five via strikeout. But Daniel Ortiz led off with a double to right-center field.
Then, after seeing Mendoza allow a one-out single to Jesus Feliciano, Obregon manager Eddie Diaz removed the 29-year-old right-hander, who got a standing ovation from a raucous sold-out crowd.
"I'm going to try to take this into Spring Training," said Mendoza, who will likely end up as the Royals' long reliever. "That and my health is most important. I finished strong and I felt good throughout, and that was the best part of this."
D-backs impressed with new stadium in Mexico
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- With a ballclub that plays just 350 miles away from this small town in North Mexico, Arizona Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall knows the importance of getting involved in this region. It's why his team has played several Spring Training games in Hermosillo before, and why Hall was so captivated by the construction of the brand new Estadio Sonora, where the Caribbean Series is being held this year.
"It's very important for us to play here and to have a presence here because we feel like there are so many Diamondback fans in [the Mexican state of] Sonora," Hall said in a press conference in front of mostly Mexican media Wednesday. "We're grateful for all of our fans here; we want to make sure we play in front of them as often as we can. We feel like this is our home -- at least our second home."
The D-backs have previously played nine Spring Training games at the now-vacant Hector Espino Baseball Stadium. Now, they'll look to utilize the new ballpark -- a $31 million investment that seats 16,000 fans -- as early as 2014.
The D-backs have been present throughout the seven-day tournament that served as Estadio Sonora's grand opening. On Monday, special assistant and former outfielder Luis Gonzalez hosted a clinic for about 50 youth players at a nearby field. On Tuesday, Roland Hemond, who's partly in charge of enhancing the club's initiatives in Mexico, threw out the first pitch. And on Wednesday, Hall came to Sonora to tour the finished product himself.
"It's beautiful," Hall said. "It reminds me of Salt River Fields."
The D-backs will be hosting Pool D of the World Baseball Classic's first round -- consisting of Mexico, Italy, Canada and the U.S. -- at their Spring Training site of Salt River Fields and their Major League venue, Chase Field, beginning March 7. The D-backs will also host Team Mexico in an exhibition game March 5.
Stadium organizers very much want the D-backs to play regular-season games at Estadio Sonora, perhaps an Opening Day. For that to happen, the capacity would have to increase to 30,000 to 35,000 to make up for lost attendance. Hall said this stadium is capable of such expansion and could see that happening down the road.
In the immediate future, though, is another Spring Training visit.
"We would definitely like to be back," Hall said. "We knew this would be a very difficult year, with the Caribbean Series [at Estadio Sonora] and the World Baseball Classic [partly in Phoenix]. We'll have those discussions shortly about returning, hopefully next spring. We'll see if that will work."
Venezuela wraps up Caribbean Series with loss
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- Venezuela reliever Marcos Tabata gave up a go-ahead two-run homer to Dominican Republic first baseman Francisco Pena in the top of the ninth Wednesday, handing his team an eventual 4-2 loss at Estadio Sonora and eliminating it from participation in the Caribbean Series championship.
Venezuela's last Caribbean Series title came in 2009. This year, their Navegantes de Magallanes finished 2-4.
Thursday's championship game, taking place at 7 p.m. MT, will pit the Dominican Republic against 3-3 Mexico. The Dominican Leones del Escogido team, now 5-1, clinched a spot in the championship game Tuesday and is looking for its third title in the last four years.
On Wednesday, Escogido pitchers Carlos Pimentel, Lorenzo Barcelo, Armando Rodriguez and Jailen Peguero combined to give up two runs on five hits and one walk. Angels third-base prospect Luis Jimenez went 3-for-4.
Right-hander Angel Castro is expected to start for Escogido on Thursday.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show," and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.