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Big Night For Team Venezuela, As Fans Focus On Chavez’s Death

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JUPITER, Fla. (CBSMiami/AP) — Inspired to honor his president, Miguel Cabrera looked to be in midseason form Tuesday night.

Cabrera homered among his three hits and had four RBIs, but Venezuela, playing hours after the death of President Hugo Chavez, lost to the Miami Marlins 6-5 in a tune-up for the World Baseball Classic.

“It was hard to concentrate,” Cabrera said. “We had to win. This was our promise to the country.”

Cabrera’s two-out, two-run homer down the left-field line off Jordan Smith in the seventh gave Venezuela a 5-3 lead. The reigning AL MVP and Triple Crown winner also had two doubles, including one that scored two runs in a three-run first.

“He’s the best player in baseball right now. It’s very good we have him on this side,” manager Luis Sojo said. “He’s a great hitter. He wants to be here and he wants to show everyone that Venezuela’s ready to win the WBC.”

Sojo’s team will play the New York Mets on Wednesday afternoon before flying to Puerto Rico where Venezuela open WBC play against the Dominican Republic on Thursday.

“The players are ready,” Sojo said. “I don’t have a doubt that I have a team that’s will battle and that’s prepared for whatever we have in front of us. I’m very optimistic.”

Former Marlins right-hander Carlos Zambrano started with two scoreless innings for Venezuela. Henderson Alvarez then retired his Miami teammates 1-2-3 in the third.

“I feel good. Everything was strong. I kept the ball down,” said Zambrano, who has not signed with a major league team for 2013.

“I have a couple of offers, but not offers that I want. I think the WBC is a good opportunity for me to prove something.”

Wade LeBlanc, competing for the fifth spot in Miami’s rotation, gave up three runs — two earned — and seven hits in 2 2-3 innings.

“A lot of those guys played winter ball. They’re ready to roll,” LeBlanc said of Venezuela. “So I can’t really lose too much confidence.”

Bryan Petersen’s two-run triple off Ronald Belisario with one out in the ninth scored two runs to give Miami the victory.

Juan Pierre’s two-run, ground-rule double sparked a three-run fifth off Alex Torres that tied it at 3.

Miami’s Chris Coghlan had four hits, including two doubles, and scored three runs.

Looking ahead to Wednesday’s game against St. Louis, Marlins manager Mike Redmond said 3B Placido Polanco (back stiffness) was expected to play. Redmond also said 3B-PH Greg Dobb (strained calf) would be sidelined a few days.

A Venezuela spokesman said the team had requested a pre-game moment of silence for Chavez – a big supporter of the team – and asked that flags be flown at half-staff. However, the spokesman was told all parties involved — the Marlins, Major League Baseball and Roger Dean Stadium — were not prepared to do so.

Team Venezuela fans, however, were prepared – to enjoy a baseball game while reflecting on Chavez’ life.

“I think it’s great we can all come together and enjoy a game and celebrate the good he did to our country despite his controversial past,” said Nicole Vega, a Venezuelan.

Others expressed happiness with the death of Chavez.

“I am ecstatic…super happy. As you can tell we are super happy he is gone,” said another fan.

(TM and © 2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and © 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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