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LEYVA, VALLE GIVE LEONES 1-1 TIE IN SERIE DE REY
After taking a lead role in overcoming a 3-games-to-1 deficit to win the Mexican League South Division Championship Series over the heavy-hitting Mexico City Diablos Rojos, Yucatan pitcher Elian Leyva could be forgiven if he was exhausted heading into the LMB’s Serie del Rey against Monterrey to determine this year’s pennant winner.
Instead, the two-time Mexican Pacific League Pitcher of the Year showed no ill effects of facing one the Liga’s most potent offenses over seven games, including a pivotal relief stint in the LMB South title series clincher, Sunday against the Sultanes. Leyva gave the Leones four-hit shutout pitching until being lifted by manager Roberto Vizcarra (who led the Merida squad to the Spring 2018 crown) one out into the seventh inning of a 1-0 win over the hometown Sultanes, disappointing the capacity crowd of 21,909 at Estadio Monterrey. By then, the 33-year-old righty had thrown 84 pitches (52 for strikes), struck out seven Sultanes hitters and not allowed a baserunner past second base. Three relievers went on to preserve the shutout, with closer Jorge Rondon getting the final three outs in the ninth for the save to tie the series at one game apiece.
Obviously, manager Roberto Kelly’s Sultanes were getting some pretty good pitching too. Julio Teheran, who has had an excellent postseason, gave up five hits and struck out four Leones batsmen in a solid five-inning performance of his own. Unfortunately for the ex-Braves starter, two of those hits came in the top of the fateful fifth frame. Yadir Drake led off with a single and one out later motored in from first on Sebastian Valle’s double to left fielder Jose Figueroa, whose throw to catcher Ali Solis was not in time to nail the 2017 LMB batting champion, who has hit .342 over five summers in Mexico. Five different players had a hit for Yucatan Sunday while Sebastian Elizalde and ex-Yankees prospect Ramiro Pena split four of Monterrey’s five safeties.
The series opened on Saturday night (a day later than the scheduled Friday opener because the Yucatan-Mexico City went the full seven games) with a 4-3 Sultanes win in front of 19,026 fans at Estadio Monterrey. The Leones took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on a Luis Juarez RBI single but the Sultanes tied it up in the bottom of the second on a Jose Figueroa groundout when baserunner Orlando Calixte ran home from third on the play and drew an errant throw to the plate from first baseman Art Charles. Monterrey took a 2-1 lead one innings later on Zoilo Almonte’s one-bagger that plated Jose Cardona from third but Sebastian Valle’s homer off reliever Manuel Chavez in the fifth lifted Yucatan back into a 2-2 tie.
The Sultanes regained the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth when Calixte lined a full-count double to left off reliever Jake Thompson, who had just come in for Chavez, scoring Victor Mendoza all the way from first. After advancing to third on a Thompson wild pitch to Ramiro Pena, Calixte made it a 4-2 contest by coming in on Pena’s sacrifice fly to right. Juarez’ two-out single drove in Josh Fuentes in the top of the seventh but the Leones got no closer as Monterrey skipper Roberto Kelly replaced reliever Wander Suero with Jose Martinez, who combined with two other bullpen mates to shut down the visitors the rest of the way. Juan Gamez was awarded the win after pitching a scoreless sixth for Monterrey and Neftali Feliz earned the save while Chavez took the opening loss for Yucatan.
The Serie del Rey now moves to Merida for Tuesday’s Game Three.
Yucatan earned the LMB South championship (and their slot in the title series) with a miraculous seven-game defeat of Mexico City after having trailed the Diablos Rojos, 3 games to one, at one point. Following their 2-0 home shutout over the Red Devils last Sunday to stave off elimination, the Leones then took the final two games of the set before hostile crowds in the nation’s capital at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu.
Game Six began last Tuesday and ended a day later with a wild 21-18 Yucatan win in ten innings. A six-run outburst in the bottom of the seventh keyed by a Roberto Ramos three-run homer gave Mexico City an 18-7 lead. Valle’s three-run roundtripper of his own in the top of the eighth off Connor Greene cut the Diablos lead to five and the visitors tied it up at 18-18 in the top of the ninth with five more runs on a three-run longball from Cristhian Adames and a two-run blast off the bat of Fuentes.
After Andre Tovalin held the Diablos scoreless for the second inning in a row in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into overtime, Mexico City reliever Francisco Haro ran into immediate trouble in the top of the tenth by allowing a leadoff double to Juarez and then intentionally walking Charles to pitch to Jose Martinez, who then launched a 2-2 Haro delivery over the wall in left center for yet another three-run homer, this one giving the Leones the lead at 21-18. It was left to Rondon (the 16th pitcher to appear for the two teams) to hold the Diablos scoreless to save the win and tie the series at three games apiece.
The combatants combined for 40 hits, including eight homers (two by Juarez, who finished 5-for-7 with six RBIs and four runs), as the game was halted by rain in the fourth inning Tuesday night and had to be completed Wednesday. Juan Carlos Gamboa drove in seven runs on a double and homer for Mexico City in their home loss, witnessed by 18,916 spectators.
The deciding Game Seven, which was delayed until Thursday night, when just 10,497 were in the stands as Yucatan completed their series comeback with a 7-5 win to advance to the Serie del Rey. Charles opened the scoring for the Leones in the top of the first with a two-run homer (his third of the series) off starter William Cuevas. Jesus Fabela sliced a leadoff single off Yucatan starter Henderson Alvarez in the bottom of the first, advanced to third on a pair of groundouts and then scored the Diablos’ first run on a Japhet Amador single. Martinez gave the Leones a 3-1 lead in the top of the fourth with a leadoff homer off Cuevas, followed later by back-to-back doubles by Yadir Drake and Fuentes (the latter scoring Drake) and a Norberto Obeso groundout that brought in Fuentes from second thanks to a throwing error by Gamboa at short to give the Lions a 5-1 advantage.
To their credit, the Diablos Rojos did not lie down, scoring once in the fourth on a Gamboa single that scored Amador from third and then pushing three more runs across in the fifth to tie the game on a solo homer by Amador and a two-run bomb by Ramos, both with two out. Alvarez was able to record the third out but Yucatan manager Roberto Vizcarra, who returned to Merida on May 30 to replace Luis Matos at the helm two days after being fired in Saltillo, replaced the former big leaguer with Leyva in the sixth. Normally a starter, Leyva held scoreless for two innings before his teammates put the final two runs of the game on the scoreboard in the top of the eighth, when a Juarez double scored Obeso and Walter Ibarra to give Yucatan a 7-5 lead. Cervenka and Rondon each turned in a shutout inning to seal the win, which went to Leyva (his second of the series). Charles led the Leones offense with two hits, a homer and two RBIs while Amador was 3-for-4 on the night for Mexico City, driving in three runs, scoring twice and homering once.
ROJAS NEW MANAGER IN NAVOJOA
The Navojoa Mayos announced that Homar Rojas, fresh off a summer season that saw his Tijuana Toros post the best regular season in the Mexican League and reaching the LMB North Championship Series (a loss to Monterrey) will be their manager for the 2022-23 Mexican Pacific League season. He’ll replace Matias Carrillo as dugout boss for the Mayos, who finished with the top overall playoff seed in the LMP last winter with a 40-28 record before being knocked out by eventual LMP champion Culiacan in four straight games in January’s first round. Carrillo finished the Mexican League season as manager in Monclova and will presumably manage the Acereros’ defending Mexican Winter League champions in the coming months.
Rojas, 58, debuted as a professional player in 1982 with Monterrey in the summer circuit and went on to spend 23 seasons playing in both leagues, including Navojoa in 1996-97, hitting .248 over 44 games. He was a lifetime .291 hitter in the LMB, topping the .300 mark nine times, and was a solid defender behind the plate.
One year after retiring as a player, Rojas made his managerial debut in 2005 with Oaxaca. Later, he directed Liga teams in Reynosa, Campeche, Monclova, Aguascalientes and the last two years in Tijuana, winning the 2021 LMB pennant with the Toros. In 15 years managing in the LMB, Rojas has a 816-749 record and was named Manager of the Year in 2008 with Oaxaca and 2017 with Aguascalientes, two teams that historically have rarely been winners on the field or at the turnstiles.
Over the winters in the Mex Pac, Rojas has managed in Obregon, Hermosillo, Jalisco and Monterrey, while also serving as bench coach with MazataŠn. He won LMP pennants with Obregon in 2007-08 and Hermosillo in 2009-10 and was named manager of the year in both 2006-07 and 2007-08 with the Yaquis.
RODRIGO LOPEZ NEW GM FOR MEXICAN 2023 WBC TEAM
According to both the Mexican Baseball Federation (FEMEBE) and the Mexican League, former major league pitcher Rodrigo Lopez, who started three Opening Day games for Baltimore, was appointed General Manager of the Mexican National Team, which will play the World Baseball Classic in 2023.
Lopez played eleven seasons in the Major Leagues with the Orioles, San Diego, Colorado, Philadelphia, Arizona and the Chicago Cubs between 2000 and 2012. The former pitcher appeared in a total of 257 games, 215 as a starter, with a 4.82 ERA. In 2004 and 2005 he was eighth in the American League in wins both seasons with 14 and 15, respectively, and reached double figures in wins three times. However, the Mexico City area product also led the AL in losses in 2006 (18) as well as the NL with 16 setbacks for the Diamondbacks in 2010 and led each league in earned runs allowed both seasons.
In 2013, Lopez started 15 games with the Liga’s Mexico City Diablos Rojos, going 4-3 with a 5.49 ERA, and was 13-13 with a 3.68 ERA in 38 outings over six winters for Culiacan in the Mexican Pacific League between 2008-09 and 2014-15 He started twice in the 2013 Caribbean Series and had a 0.66 ERA with no decisions.
Lopez is part of the Diamondbacks radio team as an analyst on their Spanish broadcasts so the Verdes Grande will play in a ballpark that he knows well, since at Chase Field they’ll play the first round of next year’s WBC against the United States, Colombia, Canada and one more national team to determine. Mexico played at Chase Field in two previous WBC tournaments.
To best face the international competition, Lopez will form a “multidisciplinary team, including advanced analytics and sports consulting personnel” according to a FEMEBE press release.The most recent outing by Mexico’s National Team at a professional level was their disastrous performance in last year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where the team lost to host Japan and the Dominican Republic in the first round before an embarrassing 15-2 knockout round defeat at the hands of Israel while also running afoul of Olympics officials after manager Benji Gil and several team members who’d played winterball for him in Culiacan had a picture taken of them wearing Tomateros apparel in violation of Olympic Village rules.
Mexico's best showing in a World Baseball Classic was at the inaugural event in 2006, where they played at Chase Field prior to eliminating the United States in Anaheim and took sixth place. At the most recent WBC in 2017, Mexico went 1-2 in Group D play at Guadalajara and just missed playing an extra game against Venezuela for second place after a tiebreaker ruling regarding an earlier loss to Italy went the way of the Italians, creating much controversy among the host team and their fans (who only came out 1,783 strong for Venezuela’s 4-3 win over Italy after an average of 14,058 had attended the previous six games).
FROM MEXICO, VISIT