Once upon a time, I was incensed at the idea that scalping tickets was illegal. Even though the illegality in most states merely involves the distance from the venue that you’re allowed to be when you sell the ticket-a distinction that’s now been largely obviated by the internet-I was upset at the very idea that you could buy something that you weren’t then allowed to sell. In my (then) libertarian heart, it was a gross unfairness.

But then I look at the empty sections in Estadio Cibao, and I feel silly that I ever thought that way. According to everyone I speak to, the games are sold out. The box office hasn’t been open the entire time I’ve been in Santiago. The bleachers (well, more like bleacher-the right-field bleacher is taken up by a booster group that acts as an additional billboard) are full to bursting. That being the case, why are there thousands of seats left empty in Cibao Stadium the very first time that the two biggest arch-rivals in the country-the Licey Tigers and Cibao Eagles-face each other in the Caribbean Series? The outfield sections of the stadium have been a ghost town throughout this tourney, but there was always the thought that maybe some people weren’t interested in watching Mexico or Venezuela play; last night there were no excuses-it was two Dominican teams playing a night game on Dominican soil, and if you just wandered into the stadium, you’d have no trouble finding a seat at all.

The tickets for those seats are held by the many scalpers crowding the stadium parking lot. I guess that if you sell tickets at a high enough mark-up, selling all or most of them can be an afterthought. Heck, the artificial scarcity can help you make some people dig deeper into their pockets. But the result is that a lot of people miss a great game, a game that should have been held in front of a packed house.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. The daytime portion of the doubleheader made the nightcap look jam-packed. The three strikes against the game, attendance-wise, were pretty obvious: first, it started at midday on a weekday; second, no Dominican teams were involved; and third, it was a conflict between two winless teams who were relatively low on star power. The starters were both guys who were major leaguers as recently as 2006-Giovanni Carrara, Venezuela’s starter, with the Dodgers, and Justin Lehr as a Brewer-and both of them did very well in their winter league campaigns this year. Still, it’s not like these guys are rising stars. Lehr’s already 31, and although he was decent in the Pacific Coast League last year, he wasn’t good enough to get a call-up from the Mariners. Carrara turns 40 in March, and got knocked around in the Mexican League over the summer.

Yesterday’s coverage was a little thin on discussion of the Venezuelans, so today we’re going to take a closer look at their lineup, using the EqAs from their most recent minor or foreign league stops so that you can get a better idea of the talent level. Where a player split time between levels, the EqA is from the level where he got the most playing time-combining EqAs is a science for which I’m not equipped in the BP traveling laboratory:

Luis Ugueto        LF    .184 (A+, hit .127 in Triple-A)
Luis Maza          3B    .265 (Triple-A, hit .229 in Double-A)
Alberto Callaspo   SS    .275 (Triple-A, hit .179 in MLB)
Robert Perez       RF    .252
Selwyn Langaigne   CF    .228 (in 2006)
Ramon Castro       1B    .274 (in 2005)
Alex Nuñez         DH    .220
Jose Martinez      2B    .244
Alex Delgado       C     .182 (in 2006)

Three of Venezuela’s players didn’t play in any of the summer leagues we track in 2007. Ramon Castro-no, not the backup catcher-was an infielder who topped out at Triple-A in his playing career; that 2005 season I’m listing came when he was a 25-year-old in the Eastern League. Catcher Alex Delgado‘s last playing time was in the Mexican League; he’d also topped out at Triple-A, most recently in 2004. Selwyn Langaigne, the man who led Venezuela’s offense yesterday with three hits and three RBI, was a Blue Jays farmhand until 2002; he most recently played in Mexico. The only person in the lineup to have a PECOTA projection, so far, is Alberto Callaspo, whose weighted mean EqA is .253 for 2008. His top comparables include a pair of guys who’ve made decent careers as utility infielders, Enrique Wilson and Alex Cintron. (I always wonder with Wilson, is PECOTA comparing players to his statistical profile when we thought he was 25, or when he was actually 25?)

Castro’s 2005 power spurt in Double-A aside, Callaspo is clearly the best player on this team. That says a lot. Still, it was enough to beat the Mexicans on Day Three, 5-0, behind Carrara’s five strong innings of work, and quality relief from the two Morenos, Orber and Victor, and Jose Guanchez.

The early game was an appetizer for the nightcap, which was surprisingly not much closer than Venezuela/Mexico had been under the sun. The matchup was between two Caribbean Series vets: Ramon Ortiz and Fabio Castro. Castro played a big role in the Eagles’ Caribbean Series win last year, but his control took a major step backward once he was back in the states last summer. He’s young and he still has great stuff, but the control problems are an obvious source of concern, and his forecasts have been downgraded accordingly. On Monday, Castro’s control wasn’t the problem-he walked two and struck out six in six and two-thirds innings-but the defense behind him was another matter. Luis Polonia wasn’t able to catch up with Matt Tupman‘s fly ball in the seventh inning, which went over his head and proved to be the back-breaking blow for Cibao. Castro had allowed three runs, and a fourth would cross the plate when reliever Santiago Ramirez allowed Tupman to score on a Yordanny Ramirez homer.

If you believe in momentum, the shift happened in the half-inning before Tupman’s double, although the Licey catcher was again involved. With Victor Diaz at first base, Eagles shortstop Tony Peña Jr. (whom everyone over here calls T.J.-English pronunciation-to avoid confusion with his dad) ripped a double down the left-field line, his second big hit of the game. Previously, he’d hit a one-out triple, and been stranded on third. Emilio Bonifacio, an infielder playing left, and Anderson Hernandez executed a perfect relay to Tupman to nail Diaz at the plate. It was a phenomenal play that absolutely knocked the wind out of the crowd.

In the ninth, we again had some questionable decision-making by The Manta. With a five-run lead, and rules in place restricting the usage of closer Carlos Marmol, the game was turned over to Jesus Colome, who looked as ineffective as he’d already been in the previous matchup. Colome quickly loaded the bases, and again was relieved by Jailen Peguero. In the course of all this, Marmol had to be warmed up, just in case. Even though Peguero was able to escape the jam for a 5-2 Tigers win, the fact that Marmol was up in the bullpen could be damaging if there are Joba Chamberlain-type rules about warming him up.

I’ll be back in Estadio Cibao today, catching the early game and chatting with you at 1:00 PM, so there won’t be a column tomorrow. Watch Unfiltered for less formal updates, and the column will be back on Thursday.

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