The ninth hitter in the lineup had the winning hit in the last World Series.

The clean-up hitter, Pablo Sandoval, was the series MVP when the San Francisco Giants won their second championship in three years last October.

But even on star-studded Team Venezuela — five of them were in last year's major league All-Star Game — one figure stands out from the rest.

After all, it had been 45 years since anyone won a triple crown in the major leagues before Miguel Cabrera achieved the feat with Detroit last season.

Cabrera has a chance to perform a LeBron-like feat if he can follow up his monumental season by leading his countrymen to the real baseball world championship.

Team Venezuela, which begins first-round play in the World Baseball Classic on Thursday against the Dominican Republic in Puerto Rico, was preparing to play the Miami Marlins in an exhibition Tuesday night when it was announced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had died.

The players appeared unaffected by the news during batting practice. Hector Rodriguez, Venezuela's minister of sports, told the team to "concentrate on sports and leave political stuff out."

"This group of guys, they want to win. They know what to do to get that goal," Team Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said. "I would say it's a great team. But on paper it doesn't mean anything. You've got to perform on the field. We've got the guys."

Venezuela's fate in the WBC figures to have a heavy Marlins influence. Right-hander Anibal Sanchez will start against the Dominican Republic. Carlos Zambrano, who was in the Marlins' rotation with Sanchez last season, started Tuesday.

Zambrano, who does not have a contract with a major league team this spring, pitched two hitless innings with a walk and two strikeouts. Henderson Alvarez, slated for this year's Marlins rotation, followed with a 1-2-3 inning.

Another former Marlin, Omar Infante, is backing up Giants' postseason catalyst Marco Scutaro at second base.

"My thought is for Infante to be sitting on the bench on any team is kind of funny," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "That's a good team. You look at that lineup and they're loaded."