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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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            After dropping their first two games at the Caribbean Series, Mexico bounced back with consecutive shutout wins over Colombia, Puerto Rico and Panama to qualify for the semifinals. However the magic ended last Wednesday in Santo Domingo as the host Dominican Republic eliminated the Mexicans, 2-1,at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal to advance to Thursday’s title game against surprising Colombia, who’d lost all their games in two prior Serie del Caribe appearances before going 3-2 in this year’s first round and crushing Venezuela, 8-1, in the first semi game.


Following their 1-0 victory over Colombia last Sunday for their first win of the 2022 Serie del Caribe, last Monday featured a 5-0 triumph over Puerto Rico that evened Mexico’s first-round record at 2-2 while eliminating the Boricuans from final four contention. Nick Struck whitewashed the Puerto Ricans over 5.2 innings, allowing five hits and three walks while striking out two. Struck and four relievers got all the support they’d need when Esteban Quiroz belted a two-run homer off Oscar de la Cruz in the first inning after Jose Cardona led off the game with a single. Mexico scored twice more in the third when Victor Mendoza doubled Cardona home and then came in on a Japhet Amador single. Felix Perez scored the final run of the game in the sixth when he touched home plate on an Agustin Murillo single.


Mexico then set a Caribbean Series record with their third straight shutout last Tuesday when they blanked Panama, 1-0, punching their ticket to the knockout stage in the process. This time it was longtime veteran righty Javier Solano who got the start (and win) with six solid frames, allowing just two hits and two walks as Mexico ran their consecutive scoreless innings total to 29, another Serie del Caribe record. After Jose Cardona hit a two-out single and stole second in the bottom of the fifth, Quiroz stroked a single to left off reliever Luis Ramos that saw the speedy Cardona motor in with what would be the winning run. Roberto Osuna struck out Rodrigo Orozco to end the game and earn the save, his second of the tournament.


Mexico then faced the host Dominicans in the Final Four Wednesday night. Although Brennan Bernardino had a good outing, scattering seven hits and allowing one run in 5.2 innings, the game belonged to Dominican starter Tyler Alexander. The Detroit Tigers swingman carried a perfect game into the ninth inning and threw 71 strikes among 88 pitches before being pulled after allowing a leadoff double to Isaac Rodriguez. Last year’s LMP batting champion eventually scored on a Cardona groundout but reliever Juan Minaya retired Quiroz on a 4-3 grounder to end the game. DR rightfielder Moises Sierra singled in Henry Urrutia in the bottom of the second inning for the first run of the game (breaking Mexico’s record string of scoreless at 30) and a Sierra sacrifice fly in the eighth brought Robinson Cano from third to make it a 2-0 contest. Urrutia and Cano combined for five hits, four of them doubles.


            The Dominicans then fell in the Serie del Caribe title game, a surprising 4-1 loss to Colombia, a country which had failed to win a single game in their two previous appearances at the tournament. Perhaps in anticipation of a Dominican championship, journalists named six players from the host country as part of a 12-man Dream Team before the final game while including just two Colombians. One Mexico player, leftfielder Felix Perez, was named to the team. Perez hit .263 with one homer and one RBI over six games.


CARIBBEAN SERIES FIRST ROUND STANDINGS:Dominican Republic 4-1, Colombia 3-2, Venezuela 3-2, MEXICO 3-2, Puerto Rico 1-4, Panama 1-4.
SEMIFINALS: Colombia 8, Venezuela 1; Dominican Republic 2, MEXICO 1.
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Colombia 4, Dominican Republic 1





            With the 2022 Caribbean Series in the history books, attention south of the border has shifted to the Mexican League’s upcoming season, which will get underway on April 22 this year. The later start means later openings of spring training for the LMB’s 18 teams but most have been busy signing players and, in the case of four franchises, naming new managers. Quintana Roo, Guadalajara, Veracruz and Monclova have all announced new skippers since the first of the year.


            In Cancun, the Quintana Roo Tigres are bringing in Luis Antonio “Tony” Rodriguez as dugout boss, replacing Oscar Robles (who took over when Adan Munoz was fired early during the 2021 campaign despite a winning record. A 51-year-old native of Puerto Rico, Rodriguez was signed by the Red Sox as an infielder in 1991 and played 27 games for Boston in 1996, batting .239 with one homer. He ended up playing seven years in the Bosox system and one as a Mariners minor leaguer before spending eight years with Nashua and Bridgeport in the independent Atlantic League, plus short stints in Taiwan and Puerto Rico.


            After retiring as a player in 2005, Rodriguez has been an assistant GM with Puerto Rico’s Santurce Cangrejeros as well as a third base coach in Nicaragua for the Chinandega Tigres over the past three winters. Remarks made during his introductory press conference suggest that fans in Cancun might see their share of smallball this summer. “I am a person who likes to play the game as it should be,” he said. “I was a baseball player and I played the basic game: touch, sacrifice, move the runners, move the base and that is what will be seen in the team this year.” Rodriguez, who has never managed a professional team, will wear number 13 this season.


            Meanwhile, the Guadalajara Mariachis have hired a familiar face to replace Benji Gil, who resigned as manager to take a coaching job with the Los Angeles Angels. Sergio Gastelum, a former All-Star second baseman over a 22-year playing career who has had success as a manager, will take over the second-year team. Gastelum was a .316 batter and won multiple pennants as a player over 1,675 games before retiring. His first job as a manager was with Oaxaca in 2018, when he took the chronic underdog Guerreros to the Serie del Rey in the Fall season before losing to Monterrey.


After another winning season in Oaxaca in 2019, team owner Alfredo Harp Helu hired him to manage the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (who Harp also owns). That’s when things got weird. Gastelum led the Diablos in their 2020 training camp until the Mexican League canceled the season in reaction to the Wuhan virus. Then the Diablos did some shuffling that resulted in Miguel Ojeda being bumped from the front office to manager and Gastelum being bumped from the ranks of the employed without ever managing a regular season game in Mexico City. He did manage in Monterrey in 2021 after Homar Rojas was fired 15 games into the season. The Sultanes had a 26-25 record and made the playoffs but Gastelum was sent packing after Roberto Kelly (who’d managed the Fall 2018 champs) agreed to return to Monterrey. Gastelum also managed Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League and won Manager of the Year twice, but was let go after the Yaquis lost their opening round playoff series last month.


            Another second-year Liga team, the Veracruz Aguilas, have picked Emmanuel Valdez as their new helmsman, replacing Leo Rodriguez III. A 43-year-old Tijuana native nicknamed “El Peque” (“The Little One”), the 6’3” 230-pound Valdez spent 19 LMB seasons as a catcher-first baseman for five teams. He was a steady hitter in the .280 range who hit 224 homers, including a career-high 25 longballs for Saltillo in 2013. Valdez also played eight winters in the Mexican Pacific League between 2005 and 2013, batting .241 with 43 homers in 302 regular season games for Mexicali and Culiacan.


            Like Rodriguez in Quintana Roo, Valdez has never managed a team but he brings impressive credentials as a former player to Jalisco. He was a regular on LMB pennant-winning teams for both the Tigres and Campeche and was a silver medalist for Mexico at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico. Valdez was part of a select group of Mexicans certified by MLB to train coaches around the world, he’s been an instructor in the national ProBeis program and most recently served as a catching coach with Guasave in the MexPac.


            Finally, Mickey Callaway has been elevated to manager of the Monclova Acereros’ Mexican League squad after leading the Steelers to the Mexican WInter League championship last year. Callaway was a 1996 Tampa Bay draft pick out of the University of Mississippi and made his MLB debut with the Rays three years later. He eventually spent all or part of five seasons pitching in the Majors, three years in South Korea and one year in Taiwan, where he was a member of the 2009 Taiwan Series champion Uni-President Lions.


            After retiring following the Taiwan Series, Callaway became a pitching coach in the Indians system and served manager Terry Francona in that role for Cleveland between 2013 and 2017, including the Tribe’s American League title season of 2016. Callaway then managed the New York Mets in 2018-19 (leading them to a 163-161 record over two years) and was hired to be the Los Angeles Angels pitching coach for 2020 before an investigation into sexual harassment allegations led to his suspension by MLB through the upcoming seasons and his firing by the Angels.





(Warning: This is not a story for the faint of heart)

            Sergio Mitre, who pitched in parts of eight major league seasons and won a World Series ring with the 2009 New York Yankees, likely will spend the rest of his life in prison after being found guilty of the murder of his ex-girlfriend’s infant daughter.


Mark W. Sanchez of the New York Post reports that Mitre was convicted in Saltillo (where he last pitched for the Mexican League Saraperos in 2019) and sentenced to 50 years in prison for the July 2020 sexual assault and killing. An autopsy showed the 22-month-old, who is identified only as Ines by authorities, had been sexually assaulted before her death, according to the report, as the result of hypovolemic shock, in which severe blood loss prevents the heart from pumping enough blood through the body.


Prosecutors said Mitre punched Ines in her lower back after an argument between him and the girl’s mother. The girl’s mother rushed her to Saltillo Children’s Hospital after she began vomiting and fainting, and she was later declared dead.


Mitre was born in Los Angeles and raised in Tijuana. He was drafted in 2001 out of San Diego City College and debuted with the Cubs in 2003. He had stints with the Marlins, Brewers and Yankees, with whom he pitched from July through September of their title-winning 2009 club. The now 40-year-old posted a 6.79 ERA in 51 ⅔ innings that season and was left off the postseason roster.


Mitre last pitched in MLB with the Yankees in 2011 after compiling a career 13-30 record with a 5.21 ERA over 143 games, 64 of them starts, between 2003 and 2011. He then pitched for teams south of the border, including stints with Leon, Tijuana, Dos Laredos and Saltillo in the Mexican League (going 17-8 with a 5.10 ERA in three seasons) as well as Mexicali in the Mexican Pacific League, where he went 9-10 and 3.38 over three winters.


The 6’3” right-hander, who had a 12-5 record in 2019 for the Tecos and Saraperos, was on the Saltillo roster during the suspended 2020 LMB campaign at the time charges were filed and he was taken to jail. Mitre had been arrested the previous season on domestic violence charges at a Quality Inn in Saltillo and while he was suspended “indefinitely,” the team quietly reinstated him prior to the 2020 season and even included him in promotions for the campaign, which was eventually canceled.


Mitre, who earned an estimated $5.2 million as a Major League pitcher according to Spotrac, was ordered by the Saltillo court to pay $66,429 in restitution damages related to the sexual assault and murder case. He is far from the first recent Mexican League player or manager to have run afoul of the law on domestic violence or sexual assualt charges, as we will learn next week in a translated column by Beatriz Pereyra for Mexico City’s Proceso magazine.



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