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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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            If the Mexican Pacific League’s two-time defending champion Culiacan Tomateros hope to make a run at a 3-peat (trademark held by Pat Riley), they’ve got a two-game hole to dig out of first after dropping the first pair of LMP finals contests to Jalisco. Manager Roberto Vizcarra’s Charros are seeking a return to the Caribbean Series after a two-year absence and they’re two wins away from doing just that.


            The Charros won the first two games of the series at home in Guadalajara, starting with Friday’s 2-1 thriller over Culiacan in 12 innings. Jalisco struck first in the bottom of the first when Jose Juan Aguilar hit a leadoff double and later scored on Japhet Amador’s two-out single. Charros starter held the Tomateros scoreless on three hits over 5.1 innings, but Culiacan broke through for the tying run in the seventh when Jose Guadalupe Chavez’ single off David Richardson brought in Stevie Wilkerson. The score remained at 1-1 into the bottom of the 12th, when Amador lofted a sacrifice fly that allowed Esteban Quiroz to scamper home and end the game.


            No extra innings were required Saturday night but the Horsemen were able to pull off another one-run victory, 3-2, over the visitors at Estadio Charros. Culiacan took an early lead in the top of the first when Emmanuel Avila singled home reinforcement Victor Mendoza, who made it a 2-0 tilt with a solo homer off Jalisco starter Javier Solano in the fourth. Tomateros starter Nick Struck carried a shutout into the bottom of the sixth, when Christian Villanueva singled two outs before Dariel Alvarez launched a two-run homer to knot the score at 2-2. The Charros took the lead for good one frame later when Jared Serna’s sac fly scored Amadeo Zazueta from third on a disputed play.


            The series now shifts to Culiacan for Game Three on Monday night.


            Jalisco reached the finals by outlasting Monterrey, 4 games to 3, in one semifinal series. The Sultanes crushed the Charros, 15-5, last Tuesday in Guadalajara. Jalisco held a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth before Solano allowed three Monterrey runs to give the visitors a 4-2 advantage, but it was a nine-run Sultanes outburst in the fifth that decided the game for all intent and purposes. Fernando Perez and Anthony Giansanti combined for four hits, two homers and four RBIs for the winners.


            The Charros won Wednesday’s Game Seven, 3-0, as Jalisco starter Brennan Bernardino blanked Monterrey on two hits until he was replaced with two out in the sixth inning. The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth, when Zazueta punched a single off Sultanes starter Mike Devine to bring home Missael Rivera. Amador made it a 2-0 contest when the Mulege Giant lined a homer off Luis Gamez in the seventh and Rivera scored a second time on Fernando Flores’ double to right in the same frame. Rivera, Amador and Flores combined for six hits, two runs and two ribbies as Monterrey went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners stranded.


Culiacan had an extra day’s rest after topping Guasave, 4-0, last Tuesday on the road at Estadio Francisco Carranzo Limon to win that semi set, 4 games to 2. Manny Barreda tossed six shutout innings to earn the victory for the defending champs, allowing two hits and striking out six Algodoneros although he did issue five walks. Jesus Fabela gave the Tomateros all the scoring they’d need by doubling off Guasave starter Jordan Kipper and later scoring on Sebastian Elizalde’s sac fly. Mendoza drove in runs in the fourth and sixth innings while Wilkerson’s RBI double completed the scoring in the eighth.





            Nowhere does the time-worn phrase “What have you done for me lately?” apply more than in managing a Mexican baseball team. It’s something commented upon endlessly on this blog but one of the biggest object lessons in that fact of life south of the border recently came to pass in Obregon, where “the decision was made to end the employment relationship with manager Sergio Omar Gastelum,” according to a Yaquis press release issued last Monday.


            The decision to cut the 43-year-old loose might have been curious if only the current season was examined. The Obregon-born Gastelum was a star infielder for 22 seasons in the Mexican League with the well-traveled Tigres franchise, Laguna and Mexico City as well as Culiacan and Mazatlan in the Mexican Pacific League before retiring after the 2017 LMB season (during which he hit .273 over 59 games for the Diablos Rojos). Gastelum hit .310 over his Liga career with 82 homers and 1,054 runs scored while playing on five pennant winners.


            Gastelum made his managerial debut in the LMB’s Fall 2018 season when he replaced Joe Alvarez at the helm in Oaxaca. The Guerreros lost their first six games under Gastelum to fall to 14-22 before going 12-8 the rest of the short season, squeaking into the playoffs with a wild-card game win over Leon to kick off an amazing postseason run that saw Oaxaca reach the Serie del Rey before losing to Monterrey. 


He piloted the Guerreros to a 68-51 record and a second-place finish in the LMB South in 2019 before falling to eventual champion Yucatan in the first round of the postseason and was rewarded that December with a “promotion” to manager of the Diablos Rojos by Alfredo Harp Helu, who owns both teams. Gastelum led the Red Devils in training camp during 2020 before the season was canceled before being surprisingly fired in January 2021 without managing the team in a regular season game. He was replaced three days later by Miguel Ojeda, who managed Mexico City and was working in the Diablos’ front office before a shakeup landed him back in the dugout.


            Gastelum was hired as skipper for his hometown Yaquis in 2018, replacing Oscar Robles, and led Obregon to a 37-19 overall record that winter, reaching the LMP finals before losing to Jalisco. He was named Mex Pac Manager of the Year for his work. The 2019-20 season brought more of the same, as the Yaquis had an LMP-best 42-21 overall record and reached the semifinals before losing to Mazatlan in seven games, earning Gastelum his second straight Manager of the Year award. The Yaquis had the best overall record in the winterball loop again last season, going 47-22 before falling to Culiacan in the semifinals.


This winter’s 36-32 mark and first-round loss to Guasave was enough for Obregon president Rene Rodriguez to jettison Gastelum despite a composite 162-94 record and .633 won-lost percentage, four consecutive winning season and playoff berths and the aforementioned pair of MOY trophies. Given his credentials, Gastelum shouldn’t be out of work for long but he’s already become familiar with the Mexican manager’s mantra: “Rent, don’t buy.”



MAESTROS OF MEXICO: Miguel Suarez, OF (1971-87)


While Miguel Suarez does not immediately leap to mind as one of the great batsmen in Mexican League history, his record indicates that he was consistently productive over his 17-year career. While he had neither power nor great speed on the basepaths, Suarez was nonetheless a perennial .300 batter as one of the best leadoff hitters ever in Mexico.


Miguel Suarez Lopez was born September 29, 1952 in Guasave, Sinaloa. The tiny 5’4” 140-pounder began his pro career with Tampico in the Class A Mexican Center League as a 16-year-old in 1969. He played two years in Tampico, batting .314 in 1969 and followed up with a Liga-best .393 in 1970. He showed surprising power, knocking out 26 homers over those two seasons, but the longball was not his style as Suarez would go on to hit only 23 circuit clouts during his LMB career (and never more than three in one season).


Suarez debuted with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos in 1971, and led the Liga with 188 base hits en route to a .372 average and a selection as the LMB Rookie of the Year.  That would set a pattern for his career, as Suarez only failed to hit .300 once in his first eleven seasons, when he batted .297 in a strike-split 1980 season for Reynosa and the Mexico City Tigres. He came back with a .303 mark for the Tigres in 1981 and later turned in .320 and .332 campaigns for Tabasco and Nuevo Laredo in the early 1980’s.  After consecutive .259 seasons for Veracruz in 1985 and Monterrey in 1986, he called it quits at the age of 33.


Suarez ended his Liga playing days with 2,444 career hits for a .323 average, including a .345 mark in eight seasons with the Diablos.  While he only had 63 stolen bases (and was actually caught stealing 96 times), he did swat 86 triples, reaching double figures in three-baggers four times between 1973 and 1979. Suarez is the only player ever to top the circuit in hits three times, including a record 227 safeties in 1977 when he hit .370 for the Red Devils, and led the Liga in triples with 13 in 1973.  He was not nearly so successful in the winter, with a career mark of .259 in 14 Mexican Pacific League seasons, mostly with his hometown team in Guasave.


Nicknamed “Mister Hit” during his playing career, Suarez was inducted into the Salon de la Fama in 1994. He died at age 65 in 2017.



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