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B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o

N O V E M B E R  23,  2 0 1 5


                The Mexicali Aguilas have won the Mexican Pacific League’s first-half title (and the 8 playoff points that go with it) by one game over the Los Mochis Caneros.  The Aguilas clinched last Wednesday with a 9-0 pasting of Culiacan in front of 16,361 fans at The Nest as Efren Delgado and Juan Juan Omar Espinoza combined on a seven-hit shutout while SS Ramon Urias went 3-for-3 with 2 runs scored and 2 RBIs against the Tomateros.
                With the win, the Aguilas finished the half at 22-13, one game ahead of the 21-14 Caneros, who lost their last first-half game to cellar-dwelling Hermosillo, 2-1, Thursday in a game that took nearly 4 hours to complete with a combined 12 pitchers taking the mound.  Los Mochis picked up 7 points for finishing one game ahead of 20-15 Mazatlan, who garnered six points for finishing third.  Jalisco and Obregon tied for fourth at 18-17, with the Charros getting 5 points because they beat the Yaquis (4.5 points) twice in a three-game October series.  The two teams will square off six times in the second half.  Navojoa (17-18) gained 4 points for finishing sixth, Culiacan’s 13-22 record was worth 3.5 points and last-place Hermosillo got three points for going 11-24, proving that no half is a total waste.
                The LMP playoff system seeds teams according to their accrued points over two halves, with the top six entering the January postseason.  The three first-round winners advance to the semifinals, joined by a wildcard team that wins the most first-round games among the three losing sides.  History indicates one should never discount the so-called “lucky loser,” as some have gone on to win the MexPac pennant and a berth in the Caribbean Series.

                Hopes were high in Culiacan for former major league infielder Jorge Cantu, who joined the Tomateros this winter after a solid summer with the Mexican League champion Quintana Roo Tigres.  In 106 regular season contests for the Cancun squad, Cantu battered Liga pitchers for a .351 average with 25 homers and 100 RBIs.  He cooled off in the postseason, hitting .275 with 3 homers in 10 games as the Tigres knocked off Yucatan and Monclova for the pennant, but the Texas native (by way of Reynosa) who hit .271 with 108 homers over 847 MLB contests between 2004 and 2011 was expected to provide Culiacan a strong middle-of-order bat this season.
                It hasn’t worked out that way for Cantu or the Tomateros, who placed the 33-year-old first baseman on the disabled list with an abdominal tear after he hit just .232 with 1 homer and 12 RBIs in 27 games.  Cantu tells Puro Beisbol’s Fernando Ballasteros he suffered the tear near his groin area during the Tigres’ playoff run and that it flared up two weeks after reporting to Culiacan.  He tried playing through it but after a series in Los Mochis, it was decided that his year was over.  Cantu will undergo testing and therapy in hope of returning to Cancun for the 2016 season.

              Persistence really does pay off.  It took him 22 seasons to do it, but longtime Los Mochis star Ramon Orantes became the 13th player in Mexican Pacific League history to accrue 1,000 career hits on November 15 in Mexicali when he doubled against Aguilas hurler Edgar Osuna for one of his three two-baggers in the game.  Mexican baseball legend Hector Espino is the circuit’s all-time hits leader.
Orantes, who turns 42 on December 5, began his LMP career with Obregon in 1993-94 and spent three seasons with the Yaquis and spent one winter in Mexicali before coming to Los Mochis in 1997.  He’s been with the Caneros ever since, playing on the team’s 2002-03 pennant winners and collecting two batting titles in 18 seasons.  Orantes has been no less successful in the summer.  The La Paz product has spent 23 years in the Mexican League compiling a .298 average with 2,098 hits with several teams (batting .285 with Saltillo last summer) for a total of 3,012 combined hits between the Liga and MexPac regular season schedules.
             If age is catching up to Orantes, nobody’s told him about it.  In 19 games for Los Mochis this winter through Sunday, he’s batting .356, including a .522 average over his last ten games.

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