After a season cut short by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico came from behind to defeat the Dominican Republic last night, 9-4, and win the Caribbean Series.
Losing 4-3 in the seventh inning, Jonathan Morales hit a three-run homer to break open the game for Puerto Rico’s Caguas Criollos. It’s the second straight Caribbean Series title for the island, and their first set of back-to-back wins since 1992-93.
The victory is all the more remarkable because it caps a winter season that almost didn’t happen at all for Puerto Rico. Much of the island is still reeling from the storm, which devastated the island in September; the federal government’s shamefully poor disaster relief efforts have ensured that much of the island, a United States commonwealth, is still struggling. A few weeks ago, Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post wrote an outstanding article about Puerto Rican baseball this winter; it’s really worth your time in full, but here’s a taste:
Baseball was an afterthought in Maria’s wake, as millions of Puerto Ricans hunted for basic necessities and waited in eight-hour lines for gas to fuel their generators while another couple hundred thousand residents fled to the mainland U.S. The winter league season, which normally begins in November, was suspended a couple weeks after the hurricane made landfall. Players whose rights were held by the league’s teams were permitted to sign with clubs in other countries. A decade after financial troubles forced the winter league to shut down for a year, Maria’s fallout was threatening another season.
Instead of beginning in November as usual, Puerto Rico’s season started in January and was compressed to just 18 games. Two of the league’s four stadiums were rendered unusable, and only one of the remaining ones had functioning lights, which meant that many games had to be scheduled for the afternoon. One of the smaller stadiums that the league used as a replacement—the one that served as the home for the eventual champion Criollos—doubled as a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, with people lining up for help with paperwork as games went on down on the field.
“We overcame a big test because of the storm, but after Hurricane Maria I felt like we were going to win this, it was not normal what I felt, but we did it for the island,” Morales told reporters after last night’s game. “We were tested but we overcame them because we are tough.”