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FLAG, IN PANAMA FOR
The Jalisco Charros broke up a tight Game Six with nine runs in the fifth inning and went on to clobber the Obregon Yaquis, 11-1, last Monday in Guadalajara to win their first Mexican Pacific League championship series, 4 games to 2. The Charros are now in Panama City, where they'll start a hastily-rescheduled Caribbean Series on Monday night against the Venezuelan champion Lara Cardinales at 8PM Eastern.
Jalisco and starting pitcher Marco Tovar held a precarious 2-1 lead over Obregon heading into the bottom of the fifth, when the Horsemen sent twelve batters to the plate to knock out Yaquis starter Yoanner Negrin. Negrin hit finals MVP Dariel Alvarez to open the frame and allowed four consecutive hits before being relieved by Jesus Anguamea after Stephen Cardullo lined a two-run double to left that scored Japhet Amador and Henry Urrutia, giving Jalisco a 5-1 lead. Anguamea plunked the first batter he faced, Gabriel Gutierrez, to reload the bases before striking out Alonzo Harris for the first out of the inning. Amadeo Zazueta then singled to left to plate two more runs, making it a 7-1 Charros lead. Manny Rodriguez then singled in Gutierrez and Alvarez cracked a three-run homer to left to stake Tovar and Jalisco their final 11-1 margin of victory. After tossing a scoreless sixth, Tovar was taken out after 78 pitches and it was left to Rafael Martin, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Romo to close out the contest.
Alvarez went 4-for-4 for the winners, scoring twice and driving in four runs to key Jalisco's 16-hit attack. The 30-year-old Cuban outfielder had cups of coffee with Baltimore in 2015 and 2016 before missing the last two summers after undergoing Tommy John surgery while the Orioles were trying to convert him to pitcher. Alvarez is still a free agent but after hitting .370 and earning the LMP finals MVP on the heels of a regular season during which he hit .315 with 14 homers for the Charros (leading the MexPac with a .571 slugging percentage), he likely caught some MLB organization's attention.
Despite his Game Six difficulties, Anguamea was picked up from Obregon as a reinforcement player for the Charros, who also added second baseman Ramon Rios from Mazatlan after regular season MVP Rodriguez sustained what's being called a "muscular injury." Anguamea and Rios were joined as add-ons by catcher Sebastian Valle (Mazatlan), infielders Victor Mendoza (Navojoa), Jasson Atondo (Hermosillo) and Rodolfo Amador (Los Mochis), outfielder/DH Jesus Valdez (Obregon) and pitchers Edgar Torres and Francisco Moreno (both from Mazatlan) and Mexicali's Jake Sanchez and Efren Delgado.
The Caribbean Series will feature six teams for the first time, with Panamanian champion Herrera a late addition after the event was moved to the Central American nation last week after unrest in Venezuela scuttled plans to hold it in Barquisimeto for the second year in a row. The late start, coupled with Major League Baseball's spring training set to open next week, compresses the tournament into two three-team divisions playing double round-robins between Monday through Saturday, with the top teams in each division meeting next Sunday for the CS title.
Jalisco will represent Mexico in Group A along with the Las Tunas Lenadores (Cuba) and Lara Cardinales (Venezuela) while Group B consists of the Santurce Cangrejeros (Puerto Rico), Orientales Estrellas (Dominican Republic) and the host Herrera Toros (Panama). All games will take place at Rod Carew National Stadium in Panama City. Newly-elected Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, a native of Panama, will toss out the ceremonial first pitch...we're guessing it'll be a cutter.
MON, February 4: Orientales at Santurce (3PM), Jalisco at Lara (8PM)
TUE, February 5: Las Tunas at Jalisco (3PM), Orientales at Herrera (8PM)
WED, February 6: Las Tunas at Lara (3PM), Herrera at Santurce (8PM)
THU, February 7: Jalisco at Las Tunas (3PM), Santurce at Orientales (8PM)
FRI, February 8: Herrera at Orientales (3PM), Lara at Jalisco (8PM)
SAT, February 9: Lara at Las Tunas (1PM), Santurce at Herrera (7PM)
SUN, February 10: Group A winner vs. Group B winner (4PM)
PITCHERS (14): Jesus Anguamea, Manny Barreda, Alex Delgado,
Manuel Al Flores, Felipe Gonzalez, Orlando Lara, Rafael Martin,
Moreno, William Oliver, Jose Oyervides, Sergio Romo, Jake Sanchez,
Torres, Marco Tovar.
CATCHERS (2): Gabriel Gutierrez, Sebastian Valle.
INFIELDERS (7): Japhet Amador, Rodolfo Amador, Jasson Atondo,
Victor Mendoza, Agustin Murillo, Ramon Rios, Amadeo Zazueta.
OUTFIELDERS (5): Dariel Alvarez, Stephen Cardullo, Carlos
Figueroa, Alonzo Harris, Jesus Valdez.
MANAGER: Roberto Vizcarra
COACHES: Martin Arzate, Javier Colina, Houston Jimenez,
Roberto Mendez, Julio
Cesar Miranda, Rafael Montalvo, Jesus Moreno, Leo Rodriguez, Marco
TOBIS FALL IN
LATIN AMERICAN SERIES
The Acayucan Tobis overcame an opening day loss (a 1-0 shocker to Argentina's Cordoba Falcones) to reach the Latin American Series title game before dropping a 3-1 contest in eleven innings to Nicaragua's Leon Leones Saturday in front of a full house at Beto Avila Park in Veracruz.
The Tobis scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the first inning when Eliseo Aldazaba drew a bases-loaded walk on four pitches, pushing Kevin Flores across the plate. Leon tied the contest up in the top of the second when Keurys de la Cruz doubled and later scored on a single by Edgard Montiel to make it 1-1. The score stood until the top of the eleventh, when de la Cruz came up with another double, this time down the left-field line with the sacks full to bring in Darian Gonzalez and Adrian Moreno with the go-ahead runs. Acayucan was unable to score in the bottom of the frame as Nicaragua's champions won the Serie Latinoamericana for the fourth time in the seven-year history of the tournament. Leon cruised through the first round with a perfect 5-0 record and won their Friday semifinal game over Panama's Herrera Toros, 5-4, on Maikel Caseras' walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the ninth.
Following their first-day loss on January 26, Acayucan won two of their remaining four first-round contests (beating Colombia's Barranquilla Caimanes, 6-1, last Sunday and blanking Herrera, 4-0, on Tuesday) to reach the LAS Final Four, where they faced countrymen Xalapa. The Chileros lost to the Tobis in seven games in the Veracruz Winter League title series, but were able to edge Acayucan in extra innings last Monday in the first round by a 4-3 count as Yancarlo Angulo led off the tenth by drawing a walk off Tobis veteran Adrian C. Ramirez and later scored the go-ahead counter on an Oscar Soto single. Kevin Flores led off the bottom of the tenth with a single for Acayucan and advanced to second on a sacrifice fly by Eliseo Aldazaba but the next two Tobis batters were retired as Juan Pablo Tellez saved the win for fellow reliever Heriberto Sanchez.
Friday's semifinal rematch between the two LIV teams was no less riveting. The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth entrada, when Acayucan scored without a hit when leadoff batter Yadier Mujica got on board via a Xalapa error, moved to second when Eduardo Arredondo as hit by a pitch, took third on a Yadir Drake sacrifice bunt and came in with the first run of the game on Angel Francisco Rivera's ground out. Aldazaba cracked a leadoff homer in the bottom of the sixth and Mujica led off the seventh with a double and later scored from third with the final run of the night to give Acayucan a 3-0 lead they never relinquished as Edgar Gonzalez and four reliever combined on a five-hit shutout.
Although Nicaragua's Leones ran the table for the LAS and were clearly the best team in the tournament, Panama's Herrera was tabbed to fill a sixth berth in the Caribbean Series by virtue of being champion of the host country's national winter league. The competition is expected to get a little tougher.
VERACRUZ ANOTHER LIGA
Whatever one thinks of new Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador probably depends on their political leanings, but his supporters and detractors alike have to agree on one thing: When it comes to baseball, the man has been very proactive. Just days after fulfilling a campaign promise by brokering a Mexican Pacific League expansion franchise for Guasave (along with a tenth LMP team in Monterrey), the so-called AMLO said during a morning press conference last Thursday that Veracruz would see a return of their Mexican League team for a 2019 season that will be opening in two months.
De Pelota en Pelotas website writer Hector "Chapis" Sanchez quoted Lopez Obrador, who was in Veracruz last week during the recently-concluded Latin American Series, as saying that the LMB would be expanding from 16 to 18 teams for the coming season and that one of them would be the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila. The most recent edition of Mexico's oldest professional baseball team (the original Veracruz Reds were formed in 1903) moved to the Texas border after the 2017 season as the Dos Laredos Tecolotes, who played in both Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas and Laredo, Texas last year.
The Tecos will move their home games south of the border to Parque La Junta, a 72-year-old facility that seats 6,000 and has been host to five previous Liga championship teams. The Tecos played their Mexican home games at Estadio Nuevo Laredo last year but the 12,000-seater (which is 60 years newer than Parque La Junta) is located out of town, which has been a bone of contention among local baseball fans concerned for their safety traveling to the ballpark in a region that's been the scene of some of Mexico's toughest drug war battles among cartels and federal police agencies.
Although Veracruz has been one of the most prominent states in Mexican baseball for decades and the home of 1940's majordomo Jorge Pasquel, it is reminiscent of Florida among states in the USA as a place where you'll find plenty of players on the field but not so many fans in the stands. Whether AMLO is able to push the LMB to expand to 18 teams in fewer than ten weeks or not, LMB president Javier Salinas has to be wondering what his role is within the league that hired him to replace Plinio Escalante after the latter retired following the 2017 season.
Salinas had originally convinced owners to contract from 16 to 12 teams for the upcoming season, with Aguascalientes, Laguna, Leon and Puebla going on hiatus for at least one year. Instead, Lopez Obrador managed to bring those four franchises back from the freezer even though the Aguascalientes franchise is out of money for all intent and purposes while Laguna owners Erick and Jose Juan Arellano have repeatedly expressed their desire to divest themselves of the Algodoneros (a move likely supported by fans in Torreon and Gomez Palacio) so they could devote all their attention and resources on the Yucatan Leones team they also own.
At this point, all anybody can do is keep an eye on things and wait for the dust to settle. Just don't ask when.