Furcal sparkles in Dominican debut

Shortstop Rafael Furcal had two hits in his first game Sunday, leading Aguilas Cibaeñas to a 9-5 win over Gigantes del Cibao and propelling his team into the semifinals of the Dominican Winter League playoffs.

Aguilas joined Gigantes, Toros del Este and Tigres del Licey among the teams that will play in a round-robin playoff that will start on Dec. 26. Leones del Escogido and Estrellas Orientales were eliminated.

Playing at home, at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago, in the northern part of the island, Aguilas came from behind led by Furcal's solid offensive performance after right-hander Johnny Cueto allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings in his season debut.

In other scores, Toros defeated Estrellas 21-3, while Escogido thrashed Licey 13-3.

Venezuelan League

New Mets reliever Francisco Rodriguez allowed a home run, two singles and a walk, but managed to save his first game for Tiburones de La Guaira. They defeated Leones de Caracas 7-6 in a 15-inning, six-hour game.

With only seven games to go in the regular season, Aguilas del Zulia opened a two-game lead over Navegantes del Magallanes in the wild-card race, after beating them 5-2.

Cardenales de Lara made a huge step toward making the playoffs by defeating the defending champions, Tigres de Aragua, 3-1.

Last but not least, Bravos de Margarita defeated Caribes de Anzoategui in a doubleheader 7-4 and 2-0. Caribes is now in a difficult position to qualify for the playoffs.

Puerto Rican League

Leones de Ponce solidified their top spot in the standings by once again beating the defending champions, Gigantes de Carolina, 9-4. With nine games to go in the regular season, Ponce now has a five-game lead over Lobos de Arecibo, which is in second place.

Arecibo defeated Cangrejeros de Santurce 5-4.

In Caguas, Criollos fell for the first time since Pudge Rodriguez's debut, losing to Indios de Mayaguez 6-3. Caguas previously had a four-game winning streak since Pudge's arrival last week.

On Tuesday, former Yankees center fielder, Bernie Williams, is expected to make his debut with Carolina, while new Pirates infielder, Ramon Vazquez, will play his first game for Caguas. Javier Vazquez, the newest Braves' pitcher, will make his first start for Ponce next Saturday.

Mexican League

Antonio Lamas had an RBI single in the ninth inning, leading Yaquis de Obregon to a 3-2 win over Mayos de Navojoa.

In Culiacan, Algodoneros de Guasave scored three runs in the seventh inning en route to a 3-2 win over the Culiacan Tomatoes and swept the three-game series on the road.

Luis Durango had a two-run triple in the seventh and Tim Lavigne earned another save to confirm his place as the league's best closer. Culiacan broke a 20-inning scoreless streak with a RBI double by Refugio Cervantes in the eighth, but it was not enough to win the game.

In Los Mochis, Cañeros lost both games, 1-0 and 5-0, in the doubleheader against Venados de Mazatlan.

And in Hermosillo, Karim Garcia hit two home runs and had four RBIs, leading Naranjeros to a 9-8 win over Aguilas de Mexicali in 13 innings.