MARACAY, Venezuela -- From the players' point of view, the game played between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela on the third day of the Caribbean Series was just a preview of the passion that both countries will display in the World Baseball Classic.
On Saturday, a three-run home run by shortstop Alex Gonzalez against reliever Jorge Sosa in the ninth inning gave the Caracas Lions (Venezuela) a dramatic 11-9 victory over the Licey Tigers (Dominican Republic).
The teams combined to hit eight home runs (five by the Dominicans, three by Venezuela) in one of the most exciting games ever played between the two countries in the history of the Caribbean Series.
More than 16,000 fans filled Valencia's Jose Bernardo Perez Stadium and several million watched the game on TV, not only in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, but also in the United States.
"This is just a hint of what the games between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela will be during the World Baseball Classic," said Dominican shortstop Miguel Tejada, who hit his ninth career Caribbean Series homer in the seventh inning.
"The Caribbean Series is just a prelude of what's to come," added Tejada, who plays for the Baltimore Orioles in the majors.
Even players from Puerto Rico and Mexico, the other two countries taking part in the Caribbean Series, followed the game play by play.
"A group of us watched the whole game," Puerto Rican shortstop Alex Cora said. "I could compare it with a Tito-Trinidad fight in Puerto Rico. The whole country stops to watch."
Dominican Republic and Venezuela face off again in Maracay on Tuesday, the last day of the Caribbean World Series. The Series was the only international baseball championship sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation until Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association came together for the World Baseball Classic, in which 16 nations will compete for baseball supremacy March 3-20 in the United States, Japan and Puerto Rico.
Venezuela and Dominican Republic meet again March 7 in the World Baseball Classic in Orlando, Fla.
"I like a challenge, and I would like to pitch against the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic," said Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, of Venezuela.
Said Dominican reliever Julian Tavarez, who recently signed a two-year contract with the Boston Red Sox: "The Classic will be a great thing for baseball, and we will add the passion. The passion everyone felt when the Dominican Republic played against Venezuela is living proof of that."
For Alex Gonzalez, who will join Tavarez and Alex Cora in Boston, nothing could top the passion of hitting a game-winning homer for his country in the Caribbean Series.
"This home run is much more important than any other I ever hit. It is even more important than the one I hit off Jeff Weaver in the 12th inning of the fourth game of the World Series to beat the New York Yankees," said Gonzalez. "This one wasn't for a team, this one was for my country and with my people watching."