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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
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            It took them a tenth-inning win in Game Seven to do it, but the Culiacan Tomateros were able to overcome their sixth-seed postseason berth to complete their second consecutive Mexican Pacific League championship season. Manager Benji Gil's squad was able to defeat Hermosillo, 7-6, on Saturday to take the series, 4 games to 3, and seal the pennant for the Tomateros. The team then took a charter flight from Hermosillo to Mazatlan after the game to represent Mexico at the Caribbean Series.


            Hermosillo opened the title series on January 22 by beating Culiacan, 2-1, at home as Ryan Verdugo allowed just five hits over seven scoreless innings to take the win. Yadier Hernandez doubled in one Naranjeros run off Tomateros starter J.C. Ramirez and scored their second in the bottom of the first to give Verdugo and his relievers all the support they'd need.


            Culiacan came back one night later for a 6-1 win as Efren Navarro, Sebastian Elizalde and Yoelkis Guibert all homered while Anthony Vasquez allowed the lone Orangemen run on six hits over six innings, striking out seven without walking a single batsman.


            The series shifted to Culiacan for the next three games, beginning last Monday with Hermosillo's 5-4 comeback win. The Tomateros had taken a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Navarro plated Elizalde and Joey Meneses with a single and later scored on a Guibert safety. Julian Leon became the hero for the Naranjeros after belting a two-run homer off Sasagi Sanchez with Niko Vazquez on base in the top of the eighth.


            Hermosillo then brought themselves to within one game of winning their first Mex Pac pennant since 2014 last Tuesday with a 1-0 whitewash of the home team. This time it was Jose Samayoa tossing magic from the mound, mesmerising the Tomateros over seven shutout innings by allowing two hits, striking out six and walking none. Manny Barreda pitched a complete game for Culiacan, but gave up the tilt's only run in the seventh when Isaac Paredes doubled home Jose Cardona with what was the eventual game-winner as the Orangemen took a 3-games-to-1 advantage.


            The Tomateros fought back Wednesday with a 4-3 comeback victory after trailing 3-1 in the fifth inning. Jesus Fabela opened the bottom of the entrada with a single and later scored on Ramiro Pena's double to make it a one-run game. Fabela tied the game in the seventh by whacking a leadoff double, chasing Hermosillo starter Verdugo, and later coming in on a two-out Elizalde single to right off reliever Marcelo Martinez in a remarkable duel that lasted 15 pitches. Elizalde, the league MVP, stroked a one-out single off Wilmer Rios in the bottom of the ninth, then stole second, moved to third on a Rios wild pitch and ended the game by scoring on Michael Wing's walkoff single to bring Culiacan to within a game of Hermosillo.


            After Thursday's travel day, the series resumed with Game Six at Estadio Sonora, a 6-2 Culiacan win Friday as Navarro went 3-for-4 with a triple, two runs and two RBIs while Meneses and Jesse Castillo each had two hits and a ribbie. It was a 1-1 game until the top of the sixth, when the Tomateros scored four times and sent LMP Pitcher of the Year Juan Pablo Oramas to the showers. Vasquez turned in his second strong outing of the finals by going six innings and letting in one run while scattering seven hits and striking out five as the title set went to Saturday's seventh and deciding game.


            In Game Seven, Hermosillo took a 1-0 lead in the first inning but the Tomateros scored four times in the top of the second (driving out Orangemen starter Cesar Valdez), with Guibert's two-run single highlighting the outburst, and eventually built a 6-2 lead in the top of the fifth. The Naranjeros fought back with a run in the bottom of the fifth and then tied the game at 6-6 in the seventh when Paredes poleaxed a three-run homer off reliever Carlos Torres. The score held firm until the top of the tenth when vet slugger Jesse Castillo hit his second solo homer of the night (this one off LMP Reliever of the Year Fernando Salas) to give the Tomateros a 7-6 lead, then closer Alberto Baldonado set down the Orangemen 1-2-3 in the bottom of the tenth to seal the win and title, Culiacan's 13th overall and fourth under manager Gil.


            Castillo, whose career was placed on hold for over a year after the two-time Mexican League MVP suffered a leg injury during the 2018 Serie del Rey, was named the Finals' Most Valuable Player after batting 8-for-20 with two homers and four RBIs. He finished the LMP postseason with a .410 average with a league-leading five homers and 15 RBIs. The MVP award could have gone to Anthony Vasquez just as easily. The Tomateros left-hander won both his starts, allowing two runs and striking out 12 batters with two walks in 12 innings.





            It was out of the frying pan, into the fire for the Culiacan Tomateros, who eschewed a long postgame celebration of their Mexican Pacific League pennant Saturday night to catch a late charter flight to Mazatlan, where they played their first Caribbean Series less than 24 hours later in a tripleheader nightcap against the Barranquilla Caimanes, champions of Colombia's Professional Baseball League (LBP).


            After winning the LMP title, it was announced the Tomateros are adding no fewer than seven reinforcements to their active roster: Pitchers Fernando Salas (Hermosillo) and Edgar Gonzalez (Monterrey) and catcher Julian Leon, infielders Isaac Paredes, Juan Carlos Gamboa and Victor Mendoza plus outfielder Jose Cardona (all from Hermosillo). Culiacan is also activating reliever Derrick Loop from their reserve list.


            The 2021 Serie del Caribe opened play Sunday when the Panama Selects, a handpicked All-Star team representing a league that didn't bother with a regular season or playoffs this winter, defeated Venezuelan champions Anzoategui, 6-3. The Caribes qualified for the CS by posting a 24-16 record during the season, then playing another 35 games in the playoffs, capping things off by sweeping the Lara Cardenales in four games for the LVBP title. 


            Herlis Rodriguez homered and doubled in the loss while Danry Vasquez, Luis Sardinas and Jesus Sucre each collected a pair of hits for the Caribes, with Sucre swatting a solo homer. First baseman Balbino Fuenmayor, who spent part of his winterball season with Mexicali, went 0-for-4. David Martinez (5 IP, 2 R) had a decent start for Anzoategui but Mayckol Guaipe, who pitched parts of two seasons in Seattle and was 4-5 with five saves over two years with Durango in the Mexican League, gave up three runs in the sixth and was tagged with the loss.


            In Sunday's second game, Dominican title-winners Cibaenas overcame an early 1-0 deficit by scoring three runs in the third inning and two more in the fourth, then cruised to a 5-1 triumph over Puerto Rican pennant-winners Caguas. The winning Aguilas, whose 16-14 regular season gave them a tie for first with Este and Cibao in the LiDom before winning two playoff series that went the full seven games, topped Caguas behind the bat of centerfielder Juan Lagares, who belted a three-run homer and hit a two-run single to account for all five Cibaenas runs. Robinson Cano added a pair of singles for the Aguilas and Melky Cabrera singled twice and scored a run. Aguilas starter Carlos Martinez got the win, pitching 5.2 innings and allowing one run on three hits. Luis Castillo, Wirfin Obispo and Fernando Abad combined to allow one hit after Martinez was pulled in the sixth.


            Caguas won all four games over Mayaguez in the Roberto Clemente League championship series to qualify for the Caribbean Series after going 14-4 in the four-team loop's abbreviated regular season. The Criollos' lone run against Cibaenas came in the top of the the first, when leadoff hitter Jarren Duran singled and eventually scored on a Jose Miranda base hit. Caguas would only pick up two more hits the rest of the way, a Yadier Molina double and a single from Jeremy Rivera. Starter Luis Medina lasted two outs into the fourth inning before being replaced by Jason Garcia after giving up all five Dominican runs (two unearned) on seven hits. Garcia combined with three other relievers to hold the Aguilas hitless the rest of the game, but the Puerto Rican champions' offense never woke up to close the gap.


            Culiacan then wrapped up Day One by making short work of Barranquilla, 10-2. Jesse Casillo's hot bat carried over from the Mex Pac championship series as the 37-year-old went 2-for-3 on the night, including a three-run homer off Caimanes reliever Jalen Miller in the top of the ninth inning. Joey Meneses singled and doubled, scoring twice and driving in two more runs while Jose Cadona singled twice and added two more RBIs. Starting pitcher Manny Barreda allowed one earned run and six hits over five innings, striking out five and walking one en route to the victory.


            Barranquilla gathered five hits in the game, one of them a Dilson Herrera single up the middle off Barrera that scored Evan Mendoza to tie the contest, 1-1, in the bottom of the first. The Colombian champions actually took a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Herrera scored from third on a Carlos Martinez sacrifice fly, but the Tomateros put the game in their hip pocket by scoring six runs in the top of the fifth. Meneses' two-run double was a key hit, as was a Cardona single that brought in two more. Oakland prospect Jordan Diaz had two of the Caribes' seven hits.


            The Caribbean Series this year will involve a first round of tripleheaders between Sunday through Thursday, followed by a Friday semifinal involving the top four finishers in round-robin play and a champioinship game on Saturday. All games are being played at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal, scene of the 2005 Serie del Caribe.



2021 Serie del Caribe schedule


SUN, Jan. 31  Culiacan 10, Barranquilla Caimanes (Colombia) 2

MON, Feb. 1  vs. Cibaenas Aguilas (Dominican Republic)

TUE, Feb. 2   vs. Caguas Criollos (Puerto Rico)

WED, Feb. 3  at Panama Selects

THU, Feb. 4   vs. Anzoategui Caribes (Venezuela)




All Tomateros games scheduled for 9PM local time





            Readers familiar with the “Mexican Managerial Merry-Go-Round,” the never-ending coming and going of managers in Mexican baseball, shouldn't be surprised that another helmsman south of the border has been given the pink slip. However, even in an environment in which managers get the axe within two weeks of their first game, this firing is unusual.


            According to columnist David Braverman, one of the country's most respected baseball scribes, the Mexico City Diablos Rojos have let go skipper Sergio Gastelum before he managed a single game for the Red Devils after coming to the club from their de facto farm team in Oaxaca after the 2019 season.


            A popular second baseman who spent four seasons with the Diablos at the end of his 22-year Mexican League playing career before retiring at the end of the 2017 season with nearly 2,000 hits and over 1,000 runs scored, Gastelum was named Oaxaca manager prior to the 2018 two-season schedule. During the Fall 2018 season, he led the Guerreros to the LMB South title and an appearance in the Serie del Rey before losing to Monterrey, earning Manager of the Year honors. Gastelum returned for another year with Oaxaca in 2019 and brought the team to an overall 68-51 record (second-best in the LMB South) and a second straight playoff appearance.


            That was enough for the Diablos Rojos to pluck Gastelum from their little sisters and name him as manager in Mexico City for 2020, replacing Victor Bojorquez (who'd brought the Diablos to a 67-49 ledger and a berth in the LMB South championship series). Although Gastelum ran the team during training camp last year, the season was postponed and then ultimately canceled due to the pandemic before ever managing the Red Devils in a game that counted in the standings. And now he's been let go less than four months before the LMB season is slated to open in May.


            Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros attributes Gastelum's surprising ouster to a battle for power within the Diablos Rojos' front office, saying sports manager Francisco Minjarez left the team weeks ago while a “massive dismissal of scouts” has also taken place. Ballesteros speculates that team president Dr. Othon Diaz (who has apparently won the power struggle) wants ex-MLB catcher Miguel Ojeda to return to the dugout, where he managed Mexico City to the 2014 pennant. However, it remains to be seen whether Ojeda wants to leave his current position of Diablos' vice president.


            Gastelum recently concluded his third season managing Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League, taking the Yaquis to an LMP-best 37-22 regular season record, a first-half title and a first-round playoff win over Jalisco. He was named the Mex Pac Manager of the Year for 2019-20.


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