- Enrique Rojas, ESPNdeportes
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Puerto Rico's Nelson Figueroa flirted with perfection Sunday in his Venezuelan league debut at Maracaibo as Cardenales de Lara edged Águilas de Zulia 1-0 in 10 innings during semifinal playoff action.
Figueroa (1-0), who until two days ago was active with the Águilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican League, struck out 11 batters over 10 innings before allowing a clean hit to Alberto Callaspo. Juan Rincón finished for the Cardenales, notching his third save of the playoff round. Chris Hernández (0-1) was the loser.
As of Sunday, all teams were still in the race, including Águilas de Zulia, who at 5-8 trailed the pack in the round-robin playoff.
Figueroa's performance capped a great week for the New York Mets right-hander. On Friday, he was declared eligible to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic after the organizing committee originally would not clear him because he is a second-generation player.
In Caracas, Tigres de Aragua took possession of first place as they beat Leones de Caracas 6-0.
Jeff Farnsworth (2-0) was the winner, throwing seven shutout innings.
With only three games left in the semifinal round, the Tigres (8-6) are on top of the standings with a half-game lead over the Tiburones (7-6). The Cardenales and Águilas are one game off the pace with 7-7 marks.
In San Francisco de Macorís, Eddy Garabito and Víctor Mercedes smacked homers as Toros del Este clipped Águilas Cibaeñas 7-3 in the last game of the round-robin playoffs, forcing an extra game Monday against Gigantes del Cibao to determine Tigres de Licey's opponent in the championship round.
Matt DeSalvo (2-0) hurled 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief to notch the victory while José Durán (0-1) was the loser.
Águilas, the two-time national champions, wound up with a 2-16 record, including 12 straight losses, the worst in the franchise's playoff history.
Venados de Mazatlán and Naranjeros de Hermosillo won the sixth game of their semifinal playoff series in the Pacific Mexican League to force a decisive seventh game Monday that will set the league's finalists.
In Mazatlán, Miguel Ojeda hit a two-run homer, highlighting a six-run first inning against Algodoneros de Guasave that was more than enough in the Venados' 6-3 victory.
Walter Silva (1-0) allowed three runs on eight hits over six innings for the win. Dominican Wilton Chavez (1-1) allowed all six runs over two-thirds of an innings for the loss.
Puerto Rican League
In Puerto Rico, Leones de Ponce took advantage of three errors by Lobos de Arecibo, taking the first game of the championship round, 2-1 in extra innings.
Shortstop Edwin Maysonet's bases-loaded error in the 10th inning allowed Miguel Abreu to score the game-winning run.
Fernando Cabrera (1-0) took home the win, while reliever Brett Harker (0-1) was the loser.
The best-of-seven series continues Tuesday in Arecibo's Luis Rodríguez Olmo Stadium, in the northern part of the island.
Nelson Figueroa of the Mets had a great week, first being approved to play on the Puerto Rican WBC team and then nearly throwing a no-hitter for Cardenales de Lara.