Licey claims record 23rd Dominican League title: How Mel Rojas Jr. sealed win vs. Estrellas

Mel Rojas Jr. punched a walk-off single to right field in the 10th inning Wednesday to push Tigres del Licey to a 2-1 victory over Estrellas Orientales, handing the heavyweights of the long-standing Dominican Republic Professional Baseball League a record 23rd championship. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Licey won the 23rd title in the league, known by its Spanish acronym, LIDOM. Tigres now own one more championship than their heated rivals, Águilas Cibaeñas.
  • Tigres also won the league’s first official title, when the league was formed in 1951. In the first half of the 20th century, Tigres won two other Dominican titles, in the early days of the game of baseball on the island.
  • But the win snapped a championship drought for Tigres. They last won the LIDOM title in 2017, when they topped Águilas. Estrellas fell short in a second consecutive trip to the championship series.

Backstory

Tigres del Licey is now the premier team in LIDOM, a league formed in 1951 in the capital city of Santo Domingo. Hall of Famer Pedro Martínez made his professional debut for Licey as an 18-year-old in 1989. And Vladimir Guerrero Sr., also in the Hall of Fame, finished his career playing for Tigres. Bob Gibson pitched for them in the late 1950s. And Tommy Lasorda managed them to a Caribbean World Series title in 1973.

With their record number of championships, Tigres are, in a way, the Yankees of the Dominican Republic. But the analogy fails in many ways. They are largely a homegrown team and their chief rival, Águilas, remains right behind them with 22 titles.

What happened this season?

Tigres played atop LIDOM for most of the season, rarely challenged for long stretches this winter. They were the best team in the league. Estrellas, though, struggled to a 23-27 record in the regular season.

But Estrellas caught fire in the playoffs, a round-robin style extended postseason that sees every team face each other. Estrellas was led, in part, by 40-year-old second baseman Robinson Canó, a longtime star of the Yankees and Mariners who played last season for the Mets, Padres and Braves. — Groke

How did Licey win it all?

Tigres catcher Jorge Alfaro, 29, who reportedly signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox earlier this week, dominated in the championship series. The former top prospect for the Rangers and Phillies hit .375 in the playoffs, then hit two home runs in the championship series.

But it was Rojas Jr. who won it for Licey. A third-round pick of the Pirates in 2019, Rojas played the past two seasons for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league.

With Alfaro on first base and Ronny Mauricio at second, Rojas hit his walk-off single off Estrellas’ Ronel Blanco. And Tigers won their championship in front of a sell-out home crowd at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo. — Groke

(Photo: David Santiago / el Nuevo Herald / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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