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LMP PLAYOFFS SET: MAZATLAN, LOS MOCHIS MISS CUT
The eight-team field for the first round of the upcoming Mexican Pacific League playoffs was in doubt all the way until the last week of the regular season, as nine of the LMP’s ten clubs were within close proximity throughout the second half of the 2021-22 campaign. However, all doubts as to who reaches the postseason were dispelled after two games played Tuesday night.
The defending two-time champion Culiacan Tomateros had been candidates for elimination before they shut out the Jalisco Charros, 2-0, in Guadalajara behind a strong start by starter Manny Banuelos, the Mex Pac’s most recent Pitcher of the Week. At the same time, the Mazatlan Venados were being blanked in a 6-0 road shocker by Kyle Friederichs and tailenders Los Mochis, knocking the nine-time champions out of the postseason for the first time since their 26-40 season in 2013-14.
It has to be a shocker for the Venados and their fans, who last February witnessed the Caribbean Series at Mazatlan’s Estadio Teodoro Mariscal (which Major League Baseball declared as the most beautiful place in the world to play baseball on its TikTok account) but now will have no more games at the 16,000-seat ballpark until next October.
On the other hand, Culiacan manager Benji Gil and his Tomateros are breathing a collective sigh of relief over avoiding elimination. Gil in particular has faced mounting criticism in Culiacan for failing to win the Caribbean Series in fourth try at the crown jewel of Latin baseball since 2015 by fans failing to note that to get that far, you have to win your league pennant.
Gil then received heat on a nationwide basis for managing Mexico to an 0-4 record at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, breaking protocol along the way by having Culiacan players who’d been chosen to the team pose wearing their Tomateros jersey in the Olympic Village.
No such worries in Mexicali, where the Aguilas and interim manager Gil Velazquez have clinched the second half title after defeating first half champion Navojoa, 2-1, Tuesday night in Navojoa despite only collecting three hits on the night (including RBI singles by Victor Ruiz and Gilberto Vizcarra in the seventh. Even though Mexicali closer Jake Sanchez was touched for the Mayos’ lone run on two hits and a walk in the bottom of the ninth, he got the final out for his LMP record 26th save.
After a 14-18 first half that ended in a ninth-place finish that cost then-manager Bronswell Patrick his job, Velazquez has led the Aguilas to a 21-13 ledger in the second half (two games up on 19-15 Navojoa with one game left) and a probable return to start the 2022-23 season with the Eagles, but let’s face it: the term “interim manager” is a redundancy in Mexicali.
Navojoa will be the top seed entering the playoffs whether they finish second or third in the second half. Skipper Matias Carrillo’s Mayos will finish with 19.0 playoff points for the season should they win Wednesday night, well ahead of Guasave’s projected 14.5 points. After a day off Friday, the quarterfinals will open on Christmas Day, The Mayos appear to be on a course to host defending champion Culiacan in the first two games, their “reward” for a first-place finish.
Wherever playoff games will be held, veteran umpire Humberto “El Lobito” Saiz won’t be working any of the games. Saiz was reportedly drunk and was physically removed from the field while working third base during the third inning of Sunday’s game in Mazatlan between the Venados and Navojoa after making obscene gestures at fans and confronting players and coaches. He was suspended indefinitely by the LMP on Monday. The son of Salon de la Fama umpire Victor “El Lobo” Saiz was also suspended by Mex Pac president Omar Canizales ten years ago for alleged drug use.
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Second Half standings (through December 21)
Mexicali 21-13 (4.0), Navojoa 19-15 (10.0), Hermosillo 18-16 (5.5), Obregon 18-16 (7.0), Monterrey 17-16 (5.0), Guasave 17-17 (9.0), Jalisco 16-17 (8.0), Culiacan 16-18 (6.0), Mazatlan 15-19 (4.5), Los Mochis 12-22 (3.5)
First Half playoff points in parentheses
LMP OFFENSIVE LEADERS
Batting: Victor Mendoza (OBR) .349, Tirso Ornelas (NAV) .346, Ramon Rios (MAZ) .328
Homers: Kyle Martin (NAV) 17, Victor Mendoza (OBR) 10, Felix Perez (JAL) 10
RBIs: Jesse Castillo (GUA) 44, Joey Meneses (CUL) 44, 2 players tied with 43
Stolen Bases: Dairon Blanco (CUL) 21, Alonzo Harris (OBR) 17, 2 players tied with 16
LMP PITCHING LEADERS
Wins: Elian Leyva (HMO) 7, 5 pitchers tied with 6
ERA: Elian Leyva (HMO) 1.54, Wilmer Rios (HMO) 2.39, David Holmberg (NAV) 2.43
Strikeouts: Octavio Acosta (NAV) 66, Ryan Verdugo (HMO) 60, Many Banuelos (CUL) 56
Saves: Jake Sanchez (MXI) 26, Fernando Salas (HMO) 12, 2 pitchers tied with 11
NEW LMB MANAGERS NAMED IN PUEBLA, LAGUNA
As the Mexican Pacific League prepares to open their first round of playoffs this weekend, their summerball counterparts are making offseason moves in anticipation of their 2022 season. Two Mexican League teams announced managerial hirings with a pair of familiar faces named to take over.
The Puebla Pericos announced that Venezuelan Willie Romero will be their new skipper next season. Romero has a long history in Mexican baseball, making his managerial debut during the 2012 campaign with Yucatan. Later, he directed the Monclova Steelers in 2013 and coached for Quintana Roo in 2014 before returning to Yucatan, where he was named Manager of the Year in 2015 and 2016, earning the same distinction in the LMP with the Navojoa Mayos in 2017-2018.
Currently, Romero manages the Magallanes Navegantes in the Venezuelan Winter League after serving last summer in the LMB as a hitting coach for expansion Guadalajara under Benji Gil, as the Mariachis had the number one offense in the League. He also has experience coaching in American minor league baseball with the San Francisco Giants organization. Like Gil, Romero has been a winning manager while also a volatile sort who can raise the ire of umpires and opposing players, coaches and fans while raising blood pressure among directors of clubs he’s worked for. The Pericos, who finished 33-33 under Carlos Gastelum and Gerardo Sanchez last summer, promise to be entertaining under Romero one way or another.
Meanwhile, as expected, the Union Laguna Algodoneros have elevated bench coach Oscar Robles to manager after the tragic suicide of former skipper Omar Malave. A former MLB infielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego, Robles played in the Mexican League between 2009 and 2017, retiring after his birthplace Tijuana Toros won their lone LMB pennant that summer. He stayed on with the team as a coach in 2018 and was named manager midway through the season. Robles compiled a 110-66 record through the 2019 season before he was fired, as all managers in Tijuana are, because he failed to win a title either season.
Robles has managed the past two winters in Guasave and is a major reason the Algodoneros have risen from a 26-37 expansion team in 2019-20 to a playoff contender with an overall 66-56 record in the Mexican Pacific League’s smallest market. He was named the LMP Manager of the Year last winter after leading the Cottoneers to a five-game improvement, a third-place finish in the overall standings and stretching their first round playoff series with eventual champion Culiacan to six games.
MAESTROS OF MEXICO: Alfredo Ortiz, P (1963-87)
Comparable to former Philadelphia Athletics star Bobby Schantz, Alfredo Ortiz overcame a slight frame (5’7” and 135 pounds) with pinpoint control and crafty pitching to become the best left-hander in Mexican League history.
Born January 12, 1944 in Medellin de Bravo, Veracruz, Ortiz played Class A ball in the Mexican Center League for three years prior to debuting with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos as a 19-year-old in 1963. He went on to pitch 25 years in the Liga, playing on five LMB pennant winners in Mexico City as he and righty Ramon Arano formed the best 1-2 pitching combo in Mexican annals.
Ortiz averaged 15 wins a year between 1966 and 1975 for the Red Devils, with an outstanding 1969 campaign in which he went 23-9 with a 2.26 ERA, including five shutouts and 27 complete games. Even when he pitched for poor teams, he was effective, as Ortiz turned in a 2.77 ERA despite a 2-13 record for Tabasco in 1977. His last big year was in 1979 as he went 16-10 with a 2.44 ERA for Nuevo Laredo, although he did pitch six shutouts for Tabasco in 1982 and went 10-7 with a 3.70 ERA and just 20 walks in 139 innings as a 40-year-old in 1984. Ortiz wrapped up his career in 1987 by pitching three games for Puebla.
For his career, Ortiz went 255-210 (second in wins to Arano) with a 3.13 ERA and 51 shutouts, fifth on the all-time list in the latter category. Despite his lack of size, Ortiz was a workhorse, tossing 256 complete games among his 3,841 innings. Not a power pitcher by any means, he was a master of location who struck out 1,824 batters (eighth all-time) while walking just 830 batters over 25 seasons. He reached double figures in wins 14 times while turning in an ERA below 3.00 ten times. Ortiz could swing a bat well enough to appear as a first baseman at times when he wasn’t on the mound and hit .261 with 11 homers for the Diablos in 405 at-bats between 1967-69.
Ortiz was almost as successful in 19 winter seasons in the Mexican Pacific League, although he set a still-standing LMP record with 23 strikeouts in a 13-inning game in January of 1965. The man nicknamed “Zurdo” (or “Lefty”) was 104-96 (7th in all-time wins) with a 2.98 ERA (17th) and 925 strikeouts (11th) for his winterball career. He went 0-1 for Hermosillo in the 1971 Caribbean Series, the first time a Mexican team appeared in that competition after leading the LMP with 13 regular season wins.
Ortiz was a player-manager for Tabasco, Cordoba and Veracruz as well as a bench manager with the Mexico City Tigres and Aguascalientes. He also managed the Mazatlan Venados to the LMP title and the Caribbean World Series in Venezuela during the 1976-77.
Nicknamed El Zurdo de Oro (“The Golden Southpaw”), Alfredo Ortiz was selected to the Salon de la Fama in 1993. He still played amateur baseball in Mexico City into his 60’s, taking turns at first base and the outfield as well as on the mound. He turns 78 next month.
FROM MEXICO, VISIT