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Puerto Rico edges Mexico for Caribbean Series title

Island secures first championship since 2000 by winning in 10 innings
MLB.com

CULIACAN, Mexico -- The wait is finally over for Puerto Rico. The celebration has just begun.

Puerto Rico's Criollos de Caguas edged Mexico's Aguilas de Mexicali, 1-0, in extra innings on Tuesday night at Estadio Tomateros to give the island its first Caribbean Series title in almost two decades.

CULIACAN, Mexico -- The wait is finally over for Puerto Rico. The celebration has just begun.

Puerto Rico's Criollos de Caguas edged Mexico's Aguilas de Mexicali, 1-0, in extra innings on Tuesday night at Estadio Tomateros to give the island its first Caribbean Series title in almost two decades.

"Being my first year as a manager in Puerto Rico and knowing that Puerto Rico has not won in 16 years brings a lot of joy," said Puerto Rico manager and former Major Leaguer Luis Matos. "I'm very happy and I'm very excited. We've been down in every series. We were 0-3 and we came back with three wins, and we are champions right now."

A team from Puerto Rico has won the Caribbean Series 14 times, but the island had not taken home the title since Santurce won in 2000. Caguas had not won the Caribbean Series title since 1987.

Both streaks are now over.

"This is unbelievable and it's a feeling I've never felt before," said Twins Minor League pitcher Dereck Rodriguez. "It was a dry spell for Puerto Rico, but we broke that and hopefully from now on, it becomes a tradition."

A pitchers' duel for most of the game, Yadiel Rivera, who played 35 games in the big leagues with the Brewers last season, led off the top of the 10th inning with a double. He moved to third base on a bunt by Phillies Minor Leaguer Jesmuel Valentin and scored the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly by Jonathan Morales, who was in Class A with the Braves last season.

It was quite a week for Puerto Rico. It lost its first three games of the tournament before defeating the Dominican Republic, 10-2, on Saturday. On Monday, Puerto Rico topped Venezuela, 9-6, in the day's first semifinal game.

Next year's Caribbean Series is scheduled for the first week of February at Estadio Antonio Herrera Gutierrez in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Cuba, a special guest during the past four tournaments, could return for one more year in that capacity and start the process to become a full member of the Caribbean Confederation. There's a chance Cuba could play host to the Caribbean Series in 2020 in Havana.

"If it depended on the Caribbean Confederation, Cuba could be a member and host just as other member leagues do," Caribbean Confederation commissioner Juan Francisco Puello Herrera said. "The problem with Cuba is that it doesn't depend on us, but on limitations due to political matters. Cuba even sent us a letter saying they wanted to be a member and possibly host a Caribbean Series in Havana in 2020. That would depend on us, too, but there are limits because of politics. Once that is resolved, Cuba could absolutely be a member of the Caribbean Confederation."

Panama might have the best chance of joining the Caribbean Series in the near future. Other countries are also petitioning to become members of the Caribbean Confederation.

"We have a meeting scheduled in Panama in early March, probably March 5 and 6," Puello Herrera said. "The presidents of the leagues and some executives are going. We are very interested in having Panama join our roster. I think we need to work out some scheduling and economic issues, but there is definitely an interest in having Panama become a member. As far as Nicaragua and Colombia are concerned, I'd say we have to wait a bit, but we are interested in having them join the Caribbean Confederation as well. It depends on economics and scheduling and finding a format that is viable for these leagues."

In the end, Mexico walked off the field proud. A team from the country has still won four out of the past seven Caribbean Series titles. Mexico also lost to Cuba in the championship game in 2015.

"The support we've received from Mexico's fans, especially from the state of Sinaloa, not just the city of Culiacan, and fans from other countries," Puello Herrera said. "We've witnessed a packed house, even for games in which Mexico didn't play. The attendance was around 19,000. We can't ask for more."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.