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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
Monday, December 13, 2021

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In what is her fourth time teaching at the Mujeres en el Diamante (“Women of the Diamond”) clinics with the teams of the Mexican Pacific League, baseball coach Justine Siegal has returned to the LMP this week to don the uniforms of the Hermosillo Naranjeros, Mexicali Aguilas and Guasave Algodoneros.


In a virtual press conference with the presence of the president of the circuit, Lic. Omar Canizales, United States Public Affairs Consul in Tijuana Kim Scrivner presented the agenda that the American will have from December 12 to 17 in the three stadiums of the clubs involved.


Siegal started his activities in Hermosillo yesterday with the tossing of the ceremonial first pitch and her activation as a Naranjeros coach for the game. She will give her Mujeres en el Diamante clinic today in the capital of Sonora. She will perform similar dual duties Tuesday and Wednesday in Mexicali before finishing up Thursday and Friday in Guasave.


"It’s a dream come true,” Siegal said during the virtual press conference. “I’m very excited to be with three organizations and wear their uniform. I am anxious that the time comes to participate again in this high-level league," said the 45-year-old Siegal, a coach with experience in organizations such as the Oakland A’s, Cleveland Indians and the Israel Men's National Team.


            The Mexicali Aguilas are trying to overcome a ninth-place finish in the first half by collecting enough points to earn a playoff berth with a strong second half. So far, so good, as the Eagles have taken the Mex Pac lead with a 16-10 record, one game ahead of 15-11 Obregon. Although it’s been a tale of two seasons for the border team, one constant for the Aguilas throughout the campaign has been closer Jake “Checkmate” Sanchez.


The 32-year-old righty from Brawley, California now has 23 saves for the year after closing Mexicali’s 2-0 shutout against the defending champions in Culiacan, tying the LMP record set by Obregon’s Mark Zappeli in 1990-91 and matched in 2015-16 by Andres Avila of Los Mochis. Sanchez, who saved 21 games for the Aguilas in 2016-17 (a season that included a microscopic 0.28 ERA in 30 appearances), becomes the first pitcher in LMP history with two 20-save seasons.


Although Hermosillo is just a hare’s breath out of the lead, the Naranjeros haven’t had the easiest of times battling for second half supremacy. First, they lost former Chicago Cubs All-Star infielder Addison Russell went down with an injury when he strained a muscle in his left thigh legging out a ground ball in a November 23 game at Guasave. Russell began his rehab in Hermosillo before heading home to Florida, where he’s said to be working with his personal trainer with no timetable for his return.


          As a result, the Naranjeros placed Russell on their Reserve List and signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo. Castillo spent the summer season in Japan, where he hit .225 with a homer and three RBIs in 33 games for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but is probably best known on this side of the Pacific for signing a contract with the Boston Red Sox that paid him $72.5 million over seven years, including $14.3 million in 2020 for the last year of the pact. In return, Castillo played 99 games for the Red Sox between 2014 and 2016, hitting .262 with seven homers. The 28-year-old batted .250 with no longballs and six RBIs in 22 games for Mexicali last winter.


          Also, Hermosillo is on their third manager over the past month. After replacing Juan Navarrete following a so-so first half, former Mexican National Team skipper Juan Gabriel Castro was sidelined early last week after being the only person on the Orangemen squad to test positive for Covid-19 just prior to a midweek series in Navojoa. Castro was sent back to Hermosillo for quarantine purposes while bench coach Chico Rodriguez fills in on an interim basis. Unlike Navarrete, Castro is expected back.


          Another Rodriguez got some press last week when Jalisco second baseman Manny Rodriguez drove in Alejandro Osuna (younger brother of Charros closer Roberto Osuna) with a run in the first inning of a 3-1 win over Los Mochis. The RBI was the 594th of the 39-year-old Rodriguez’ Mexican Pacific League career, which is in its 16th season, putting him one ahead of former slugger Andres Mora in fifth place among the LMP’s all-time leaders in that category. The late Hector Espino tops that list with 1,097 RBIs over 24 winters, 418 more than his nearest competitor, Matias Carrillo.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE standings (as of December 12)

Mexicali 16-10, Obregon 15-11, Guasave 14-12, Hermosillo 14-12, Navojoa 14-12, Mazatlan 13-12, Culiacan 13-13, Jalisco 12-13, Monterrey 11-13, Los Mochis 6-20



Batting: Tirso Ornelas (NAV) .361, Victor Mendoza (OBR) .350, Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .332

Home Runs: Kyle Martin (NAV) 16, Felix Perez (JAL) 10, Nick Torres (HMO) 9

Runs Batted In: Jesse Castillo (GUA) 41, Kyle Martin (NAV) 40, Felix Perez (JAL) 40

Stolen Bases: Dairon Blanco (CUL) 21, Alonzo Harris (OBR) 17, 3 players tied at 14



Wins: Six pitchers tied at 6

ERA:  Elian Leyva (HMO) 1.69, Wilmer Rios (HMO) 2.37, Arturo Lopez (OBR) 2.53

Strikeouts: Octavio Acosta (NAV) 60, David Reyes (MXI) 54, 3 pitchers tied at 51

Saves: Jake Sanchez (MXI) 23, Fernando Salas (HMO) 11, 2 pitchers tied at 11



            Shawon Dunston Junior’s solo homer in the bottom of the tenth inning Friday night completed an improbable comeback for his Monclova Acereros, who lost the first two games to Puebla in a best-of-five Mexican Winter League championship series before roaring back with three straight wins to cop the LIM’s Prince Series (Serie de Principe) and the AA winter league’s first pennant since the league suspended operations after its 2017 season. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos won all three LIM titles from 2015-17.


Dunston’s blast gave Monclova a 9-8 victory in the deciding game of a series in which the home team won every game. The first two contests were played in Puebla before the series moved to Coahuila for the final three games, although after the Pericos took a 2-games-to-0 lead, it didn’t seem likely that they’d need that many to clinch the title after defeating Veracruz-Yucatan in the LIM South Finals to advance to the Serie de Principe against the Acereros, who’d beaten Monterrey for the LIM North crown.


Puebla opened the LIM title set last Sunday with an 8-6 home win over the Acereros as Jesus Cordova made the most of his one hit by driving in two runs and scoring two more for the Pericos while Ahmad Galaz collected two hits and as many RBIs on the night. Despite allowing five runs in 6.1 innings, Puebla starter Joel Paula benefited from the 7-4 lead his offense had given him going into the seventh and was awarded the win.

The Parakeets took a two-game lead last Monday in a 9-8 knucklebiter over the Steelers that lasted eleven innings. Cordova was the man of the moments by lining a walkoff single against Monclova reliever Rolando Mora that drove in the game-winning run. Cristian Alvarado, who earned the save on Sunday, tossed the final three innings for Puebla and got the win out of the bullpen while Mora absorbed the loss.


           After Tuesday’s travel day, the series resumed at Estadio Monclova with the Acereros’ collective backs against the wall. The Blue Fury responded with a pair of blowout wins to set up the deciding game, starting with Wednesday’s 9-3 laugher during which veteran third baseman Rodolfo Amador went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs while another vet, first sacker Ricky Rodriguez, had two hits, scored twice and drove in a run. Monclova starter Jassiel Ochoa, who enjoyed the 9-0 fifth inning lead his mates had built for him, got the win after tossing 5.2 frames and allowing three runs (all coming in the top of the sixth after the winner had pretty much been decided).


           Monclova got an even bigger win last Thursday, 13-4, as the Acereros did all their scoring in a three-inning stretch: four runs in the second, three in the third and six in the fourth. Dunston belted the first homer of the series for both teams in the second and ended up with two runs scored and three ribbies. Lost in the onslaught was the mound work done by 18-year-old Steelers starter Jose Miguel Martinez, who went seven entradas and allowed two runs on three hits, striking out nine Pericos and walking none.


           That led to Friday’s deciding Game Five. The hosts were leading 4-2 after seven innings before Puebla put up four runs in the eighth and one more in the ninth to take an 8-4 advantage with three outs to go for the title. Instead, Monclova scored four of their own in the bottom on the ninth, including a Roberto Castro homer, to send the tilt into overtime. After Acereros reliever Jesus Valenzuela struck out the side in the top of the tenth, Dunston stepped up in the bottom of the inning and blasted a roundtripper to end the game, the series and the season for Monclova and manager Mickey Callaway, a former Mets skipper who earlier pitched in MLB, Korea and Taiwan.


          Baseball fans in the USA are likely more familiar with shortstop Hector Torres, a Little League World Series hero in 1957 who went on to play Major League Baseball, his father was arguably the better player. Epitacio Torres was a right fielder comparable to Roberto Clemente (although Torres lacked Clemente’s power) and is considered by many to be Mexico's best-ever at that position. He had a rifle arm that few runners dared test and was a consistent .300 hitter for nearly twenty seasons.

           Nicknamed “La Mala” (“The Bad”) as a player, Torres was born September 19, 1921 in Villaldama, Nuevo Leon and made his Liga debut as a 17-year-old in 1939 with the Monterrey Sultanes, for whom he would play 18 seasons. He hit .316 (with a .381 OBP) and was named Rookie of the Year that season.

          Over his 19 Mexican League seasons, Torres topped the .300 mark twelve times, was awarded nine Gold Gloves in right field and had the highest career fielding percentage (.982) among all past and present LMB outfielders when he retired. The left-hander became the first player in league history to reach the 1,000 hit threshold and finished his career with 1,823 safeties, scoring 933 runs and driving in 855 more (despite only clubbing 46 career homers).

          Torres helped the Sultanes win four pennants, including three in a row between 1947-49, and played in 13 All-Star Games between 1943 and 1956. Despite his usual lack of power, he struck the game-winning homer in the bottom of the tenth inning at the 1954 All-Star Game, giving the Mexican League a 1-0 win over the Texas League All-Stars in front of his home fans in Monterrey.  He completed his final Mexican League season with two games for Nuevo Laredo (batting 1-for-7) in 1958, the year after son Hector led Monterrey to the Little League World Series title.

          La Mala also played eight seasons of winter ball with Mazatlan, batting .300 or better five times (winning the 1947-48 batting title of the old Pacific Coast League), and is a member of the Mex Pac’s all-time team. Torres played one winter with future Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford in Mazatlan and in his book “Slick,” Ford called Torres “the best player I’ve ever seen in my career.”

          Torres was inducted into the Mexican Salon de la Fama in 1964, one of the earliest players to be so honored. He died at age 49 on April 21, 1971 in Monterrey.



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