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SULTANES WIN LIGA FALL PENNANT; MEXPAC SEASON OPENS
Ramiro Pena's walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth inning drove in Chris Roberson with the final run of the Fall 2018 season as Monterrey defeated Oaxaca, 3-2, last Tuesday in Game Six of the Mexican League's Serie del Rey. The win clinched the Sultanes' eighth LMB pennant and Monterrey's tenth Liga flag overall since the northern city entered the circuit in 1939 (the former Industriales team won titles in 1943 and 1947).
Oaxaca took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Alejandro Gonzalez' two-out single to right off Monterrey starter Anthony Vasquez brought in Game Five hero Samar Leyva from second to give the underdog Guerreros the early advantage. Sultanes rightfielder Sebastian Elizalde's throw to the plate allowed Gonzalez to scamper to second base while Alan Sanchez moved 90 feet to third, but Vasquez got Erick Rodriguez to ground out to Pena at shortstop, ending the threat.
Monterrey came back two innings later with a run to even the score at 1-1. Agustin Murillo, who had a splendid series, opened the bottom of the fourth by lining a double to left off Oaxaca starter Ruddy Acosta. Murillo was able to go from first to third during a Felix Perez groundout to Guerreros first sacker Henry Urrutia, then plated the Sultanes' first score on a Roberson single. The Oakland native was able to advance to third on a Ramon Rios single, but died 90 feet from paydirt when Elizalde lofted a fly ball to Gonzalez in right to end the entrada.
The two teams remained deadlocked until the top of the eighth. Gonzalez led off by singling to left against Monterrey reliever Ozzie Mendez, moved to second on a Rodriguez sacrifice and took third on Jay Austin's groundout to Rios at second before Vasquez uncorked a wild pitch to Julian Ornelas, allowing Gonzalez to streak in with the Guerreros' go-ahead run. The Sultanes came back in the bottom of the eighth to knot the game back up at 2-2 when Murillo's sacrifice fly to Ornelas in left brought in pinch-runner Marco Guzman (son of longtime LMB catcher and manager Marco Antonio Guzman) from third. Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo then came in to retire the Oaxacans without a score in top of the ninth, setting up the Sultanes' pennant-winning heroics.
Roberson started things off by doubling an 0-1 Samuel Zazueta pitch to right, then skipped over to third when Rios laid down a bunt in front of home plate that Zazueta could only throw to Urrutia at first for the out. Monterrey manager Roberto Kelly brought in Yadir Drake as a pinch-hitter for Elizalde, but Zazueta intentionally walked the 2017 LMB batting champion to put Sultanes runners at the corners. That was a temporary situation, as pinch-runner Leo German (in for Drake) stole second whil Zazueta was working on the next batter, Arturo Rodriguez. At that point, Rodriguez was intentionally walked to load the bases with Julio Borbon coming up. Zazueta struck out Borbon swinging on four pitches for the second out, but Pena grounded the first pitch he saw up the middle to score Roberson from third, ending the game and season to the delight of an Estadio Monterrey sellout crowd of 21,909.
Obispo was awarded his second win of the Serie del Rey for his one inning of work, but Vasquez (who allowed five Oaxaca runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings in Game Two) gave the winners eight solid frames of pitching, letting in two runs and scattering five hits while walking one. Zazueta absorbed the loss after allowing the winning run on three hits and two walks, also in one frame. The 21-year-old Obregon product pitched in every game of the finals for manager Sergio Gastelum's Guerreros and generally did well before wilting in Game Six. Guerreros starter Acosta acquitted himself well, giving up one run and scattering four hits in 5.1 innings before being replaced by Mendez.
Murillo was named the Serie del Rey MVP after helping the Sultanes win their first pennant since 2007. While the Tijuana-born third baseman's finals numbers of a .308 batting average with two homers and five RBIs are hardly off-the-charts, Guty's two-run game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game Two was a shocking blow the Guerreros never really recovered from while his Game Three performance (3-for-4, HR, 2B, 2 RBIs) was key in giving the Sultanes a series lead they never relinquished.
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE OPENS 2018-19 CAMPAIGN
When Culiacan pitcher James Russell threw a pitch to Navojoa centerfielder Alonzo Harris at 8:10 last Friday night it marked the opening of the Mexican Pacific League's 2018-19 regular season. Let the record show it was a ball, as Russell fell behind in the count 3-0 before eventually getting Harris to pop out to Tomateros third baseman Ronnier Mustelier in foul territory for the first OUT of the season.
Navojoa went on to beat defending champion Culiacan, 8-2, as a crowd of 19,210 jammed Estadio Tomateros. The Mayos knocked Russell, who spent seven years in the majors for the Cubs and Phillies between 2010 and 2016, for six runs on seven hits over 4.1 innings. The 32-year-old served up a two-run homer to Fernando Flores in the second and a solo blast to Harris (an ex-Mets farmhand) in the third as the Mayos outhit the Tomateros by a 13-7 margin, with four Navojoa players collecting two hits each
In Friday's other opener, Mexicali shut out Hermosillo, 3-0, as former MexPac pitching champion Javier Solano blanked the Naranjeros over six innings, giving up two hits, striking out 12 and walking none. It was a vintage performance for Solano, who turned in a 10-6 record in the LMB last summer for Monterrey and Quintana Roo but had an ERA of 5.31 ERA over the two seasons.
Two more openers were played Saturday. Visiting Mazatlan overcame a two-run sixth inning deficit to pull past Jalisco, 5-4. The game lasted until a minute before midnight as a combined 15 pitchers took the mound for both teams. Former Cubs prospect Anthony Giansanti went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs for manager Joe Alvarez' Venados and newcomer Quincy Latimore, who was dealt to the Deer by Navojoa in the offseason, also had three hits and scored twice.
Obregon got strong outings from starter Nate Reed (5 IP, 1 R, 2 H) and four relievers to earn a 4-1 road win at Los Mochis Saturday. The Yaquis got a three-hit night from John Nogowski but it was a two-run single by number 9 batter Juan Carlos Gamboa that keyed a four-run Obregon fourth inning to in essence put the game away for the visitors.
Four more openers in the MexPac's traditional two-game, home-and-away series were played Sunday. Mexicali went to 2-0 on the season with an 8-3 win at Hermosillo as Ricardo Serrano highlighted a four-run Aguilas second by slamming a three-run homer off Scott Copeland. Mazatlan is likewise 2-0 after blanking Jalisco, 1-0, on a one-hitter spun by Venados starter Jose Hernandez and five relievers. Visiting Culiacan topped the Navojoa Mayos, 2-1, as International League MVP and Triple Crown winner Joey Meneses singled in Dylan Moore with the tiebreaking run in the top of the ninth. A Ramon Urias RBI single in the top of the eleventh brought in the go-ahead score as Los Mochis went on to an 8-6 triumph in Obregon.
In all, 120,705 fans attended the eight openers, an average of 15,088 per game as all contests sold out. Ballpark renovations have not been completed in either Mazatlan or Los Mochis, but both projects are expected to be completed in time for the January playoffs. In the offseason, the LMP expanded the limit of foreign players from eight to 14 per team in response to the Mexican League's expanded schedule. While roster churn is an accepted fact of life in the circuit, the first half is expected to be more active than usual as domestic players who've been performing in the LMB playoffs will become available over the next few weeks.
PITCHER ORTEGA RETIRES, WILL COACH IN OBREGON
Pablo Ortega earned a living as a pitcher for nearly two decades by baffling opposing batsmen in both the Mexican and Mexican Pacific Leagues until he finally found someone he couldn't beat forever: Padre Tiempo (or Father Time).
Ortega, who turns 42 on November 7, has announced his retirement as a player after a forgettable Fall 2018 season with the Quintana Roo Tigres in which he went 1-5 with a 9.55 ERA in ten starts. He'd had a respectable Spring campaign with the Tigres, going 3-2 with a 3.18 ERA in eight outings, including a May 10 complete game 5-0 shutout over Leon in Cancun, scattering five singles and throwing 63 strikes in the 93-pitch performance. However, the wheels gradually fell off Ortega's wagon in the second season, one that saw the Tigres miss the postseason for the first time in years. His final outing was an August 29 start against defending champion Yucatan in Merida, where he lasted 3.1 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits before QR manager Raul Sanchez replaced him with Luis Ivan Rodriguez, who'd just turned 22 and hadn't even been born when El Maestro began his career.
The Nuevo Laredo made his Mexican League debut in 1995 with his hometown Dos Laredos Tecolotes as an 18-year-old. Ortega didn't set the Liga on fire over his five appearances (two starts) that year, going 0-1 with a 5.93 ERA, but he showed enough to earn a contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who had not yet fielded a team at the Major League level. The 6'2" righthander spent four years in the Rays system and turned in a 30-38 record, pitching once for AAA Durham in 1999 before returning south of the border the following year.
That was when his legacy as a Mexican baseball pitcher began as he was 11-3 for the Mexico City Tigres and was the championship series MVP for the 2000 LMB pennant winners, the first of six Liga titles Ortega would win (all for the Tigres). Although he would spend all or part of 2002 and 2003 with the Puebla Pericos, Ortega would become a mainstay in the Tigres rotation during his career. He reached double figures in wins nine times and was selected to at least six All-Star Games. He was named the LMB Pitcher of the Year in 2003 and Comeback Player of the Year in 2011, a year in which he was 10-3 (including a no-hitter against Veracruz) for the Tigres after going 2-6 with an 8.24 ERA the previous summer. For his Mexican League career, Ortega was 164-107 and he turned in a 4.34 ERA, a respectable figure for a hitter's league like the LMB. He had 1,174 strikeouts in 2,191 innings pitched.
El Maestro didn't limit his skills to the Liga. He spent 17 winters pitching in the Mexican Pacific League, pitching for three title teams, and also appeared in the Caribbean Series (winning the 2005 CS with Mazatlan) and was on the Mexican National Team for several international tournaments, including the World Baseball Classic, Olympic Games qualifiers, Pan American Games, Central American and Caribbean Games and Americas Cup competitions.
While Ortega was in training camp with the MexPac's Obregon Yaquis when he announced his retirement, he won't be stepping away from the game. He'll stay on with the Yaquis this winter as a bullpen coach under new manager Oscar Robles, who faced Ortega as a batter several times over the years as a player in Mexico City Oaxaca and Tijuana.
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