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CHARLES IN CHARGE: LEONES POWER WAY TO SOUTH SEMIS
Led by the explosive bat of Art Charles, Yucatan outlasted Puebla, 20-17, last Wednesday to win their Mexican League first round playoff series 4-games-to-2 and advance to the South Division semifinals against Quintana Roo. By winning two games, the Pericos also moved on to face Mexico City in their LMB South semi set.
A former Toronto and Philadelphia farmhand, the 6’6” Charles crashed a pair of homers in the Leones’ deciding-game win, including a three-run bomb during a six-run eighth inning outburst that brought Yucatan back from a 17-14 deficit to the Parakeets in Puebla. The two teams combined for 37 runs on 42 hits as 19 pitchers were used in the 5-hour, 5-minute marathon. Charles ended the series with five homers in six games.
The Leones’ post-series ride to the Mexico City airport for a flight back to Merida was marred when their bus was attacked and fired upon less than ten miles out of Puebla. Two of their buses’ tires were punctured and destroyed by rocks as the team was chased by a vehicle with at least one occupant firing a gun at them. The National Guard was called and nobody on the bus was hurt. While Mexico is beset nationwide by drug cartels, the attack is believed to have come from some irate Pericos fans.
The Yucatan players and coaches showed no lost nerve by winning the first two games of their next series against rival Quintana Roo at home in Merida. The Lions thumped the Tigres, 9-1, in Saturday’s opener. Charles’ bat sayed hot with a three-run homer in the top of the fifth and a run-scoring single in the sixth. Former Blue Jays and Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez got the win by tossing 5.2 innings of 1-run ball and scattering seven hits. McKenzie Mills took the loss, allowing three runs on two frames.
The Leones needed 12 innings to slip past the Tigres, 5-4, on Sunday. Charles crushed another three-run roundtripper in the bottom of the eighth to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead, but Alexis Wilson’s solo blast in the top of the ninth tied it up as the game went into overtime. Quintana Roo’s Raul De Los Reyes came out from the bullpen in the bottom of the twelfth with two Yucatan runners on and promptly walked Jose Martinez to load the bases and then gave Marco Jaime a free pass to score Norberto Obeso from third to end what was literally a walk-off win for the hosts. Crowds topping 12,000 attended both contests at Parque Kukulkan. Game Three will be Tuesday night in Cancun.
Meanwhile, the Mexico City Diablos Rojos plated 27 runs in winning their first two games against Puebla, beginning with Saturday’s 10-6 triumph over the Pericos. The Diablos were up 4-3 before a six-run fifth inning essentially put the game away. Catcher Julian Leon, not ordinarily considered one of the team’s big guns, the the most damage by swatting a two-run homer in the third and a three-run clout in the sixth, both off Puebla starter Gabriel Ynoa. While starter Jeffry Nino pitched four innings of two-run ball, reliever David Huff got the win despite allowing a counter in the fifth. Ynoa took the loss by letting in seven runs on eight hits in four-plus innings (serving up Leon’s second homer after walking Roberto Ramos and Juan Carlos Gamboa to start the fifth.
Game Two of the series was a Red Devils’ 17-7 blowout of Puebla as the home team socked five homers, two by Ramos. The former KBO star finished 3-for-5 (adding a double) and drove in five runs). Daniel Mercado and Miguel Guzman went deep for the Pericos but with Mexico City holding a 13-3 lead after four entradas, it was all Diablos. Bernardo Flores’ five innings of 4-run pitching was good enough to be given the win while Puebla starter Braulio Torres-Perez somehow lasted long enough to allow five runs on two hits and three walks in Mexico City’s 7-run first before being yanked with only one out to show for it. Attendance at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helo approached 28,000 for the two contests as the series now shifts to Puebla for Games Three on Tuesday night.
SULTANES UP 2-0 IN LMB NORTH SEMIS VS. TECOS
The Monterrey Sultanes topped Dos Laredos twice in Nuevo Laredo over the weekend to take the reins in their Northern Division semifinal playoff series. Both games were played at Estadio Nuevo Laredo, a somewhat surprising move because while the 12,000-seat facility is much nicer than the Tecolotes usual Mexican home of aging Parque La Junta, it sits several miles outside the city and fans tend to stay home rather that avoid the risk of running into cartel activity along the way. Attendance was over 5,000 both Friday and Saturday, decent crowds compared to La Junta’s usual turnout but well below the double-figure audiences at the six other second-round matchups played in Merida, Mexico City and Tijuana.
Monterrey doubled up the Tecos, 4-2, in Friday’s Game One after building up a 4-0 lead on RBI singles by Zoilo Almonte in the first inning and Jose Cardona in the third, preceding a homer in the fourth from Ramiro Pena (who scored on Ali Solis’ sacrifice bunt in the sixth. Kennys Vargas and Balbino Fuenmayor put Dos Laredos on the board with ron-scoring singles in the seventh but the Tecos couldn’t come any closer. Yohander Mendez pitched five shutout innings for the Sultanes to collect the win as Neftali Feliz notched the save. Brandon Brennan was handed the loss after giving up three runs in four frames.
One night later, the Sultanes grounded the Owls, 9-3, behind the solid start from former Atlanta hurler Julio Teheran, who had five 10+ win seasons for the Braves in the 2010’s. Teheran allowed just two safeties in six shutout innings to earn the win. Longtime independent league reliever Nate Antone was converted into a starter with the Tecos this season and while he didn’t pitch badly on Saturday (5 innings, 3 runs), he got no support and was handed a loss in what might’ve been a winning effort on another night. Cardona went 5-for-5 with a double and two runs to pace the Sultanes batters as the series shifted to Monterrey for the next two games.
Defending champion Tijuana and 2020 titleists Monclova have developed a good rivalry over the past few years, so it’s no surprise that their LMB North final four series is tied at a game apiece. The set opened Friday night in Tijuana as 16,001 fans witnessed the visiting Acereros 13-1 throttling of the Toros. Francisco Peguero’s bases-loaded single drove in Bruce Maxwell with the first run of the game in the top of the second and the Steelers built an 8-0 lead before Agustin Murillo’s solo homer in the bottom of the fifth gave Tijuana their only run of the tilt. The Acereros scored runs in six of the nine innings they batted, including a 3-run homer from Noah Perio during a five-run fifth. Former Pitcher of the Year Josh Lowey, who went 4-0 in five late starts for Monclova, allowed one run on five hits over six innings for the win while another longtime LMB star, Manny Barreda, was shelled for seven runs in 4.1 innings to take the loss for the Toros.
Tijuana bounced back in Game Two with a 5-4 win on Saturday as another crowd exceeding 16,000 jammed Estadio Nacional in the border city. Monclova held a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth before RBI singles by Efren Navarro and Murillo put the Bulls on top. Closer Fernando Rodney took the ball in the top of the ninth and the former MLB All-Star struck out Peguero, Rudy Amador and Keon Broxton on ten pitches to end the game with a flourish. The contest was a homer orgy during the first three innings, with Felix Perez and Nick Williams going long for TJ while Addison Russell belted a lngball and Alex Mejia homered twice for Monclova. The series shifted to Monclova for the next two games in the Steel Capital.
RENOVATIONS APPROVED FOR NAVOJOA BALLPARK
One of the major accomplishments for outgoing Mexican Pacific League president Omar Canizales over his 14 years in office was the construction or modernization of ballparks in all ten Mex Pac cities. Although Canizales won’t be sitting behind the big desk when it’s completed, the final renovation was approved under his watch earlier this year when the governor of Sonora appropriated 65 million pesos ($US3.23 million) for upgrading Navojoa’s Estadio Manuel “Ciclon” Echeverria, home of the Mayos.
Navojoa mayor Mario Martinez Bojorquez made the initial announcement in January while Sinaloa governor Alfonso Durazo held a press conference to that effect in late May. According to Durazo, work was scheduled to begin in June and be completed in time for the Mayos’ 2022-23 regular season home opener on Thursday, October 13 when the Los Mochis Caneros come to town.
Estadio Echeverria was first opened on October 7, 1970 and has seated 11,500 spectators since Day One. Dimensions are a cozy 378 feet to straightaway center field, 318 feet down both foul lines. The ballpark is named after a former local pitcher and is owned by the State of Sonora, although it falls under the jurisdiction of the Navojoa city government and is both rented and managed by the Mayos under team owner Victor Cuevas Valenzuela.
Primary funding for the renovation was expected to come from the federal government, which has paid for many such efforts across the country under the presidency of lifelong baseball enthusiast Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. According to Marian Millan of the La Verdad website in Navojoa, mayor Martinez said federal approval for funding the project was twofold in its objective: “One, that it serves the Navojoa Mayos professional sports team and also that it provides service to the community in the sports and cultural fields.”
Of course, as so often happens, what is said and what is done can be two different things in Mexico. While both announcements came out before the end of May, there was no information immediately found via online searches about the actual progress of renovations to Estadio Manuel “Ciclon” Echeverria as of August 22. Guess we’ll all find out on October 13.