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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
Monday, September 13, 2021

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August 9, 2021



            After losing the first three games of the 2021 Serie del Rey, things were looking grim late last week for the Tijuana Toros, who had to beat the Yucatan Leones twice in Merida to stay alive and send the series back home to Estadio Nacional, let alone avoid an embarrassing sweep.


            As things turned out, that's exactly what happened and now both teams will be flying to Baja California Norte for Game Six of the Mexican League's championship series on Tuesday night. The following is a wrap of each of the first five games of the series:


GAME 1 (Monday, September 6): Yucatan 7, TIJUANA 3


            The Leones drew first blood by scoring four runs in the top of the seventh inning to blow open a 3-2 game en route to a four-run win over the Toros in front of 14,297 fans at Tijuana's Estadio Nacional. Sebastian Valle's three-run homer off TJ reliever Brennan Bernardino with two out was the key blow. At that point, Jesus Pirela relieved Bernardino and recorded the third out but the damage was done and the Liones never looked back.


            Valle combined with Walter Ibarra and Humberto Sosa for six hits and six RBIs to lead Yucatan while starter Rhadames Liz allowed two runs on five hits over five innings for the win. Although Bernardino suffered a nightmarish seventh, the loss went to Toros starter Michael Devine, who was charged for three runs on four hits and four walks after exiting with two out in the fifth.


GAME 2 (Tuesday, September 7): Yucatan 7, TIJUANA 1


Yadir Drake            The Leones made it 2-for-TJ with another big inning to break a close game open. The Toros took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Junior Lake scored on Gabriel Gutierrez' groundout to second. Tijuana starter Carlos Hernandez tossed four shutout innings before Humberto Sosa, Sebastian Valle and Jose Juan Aguilar led off the fifth with consecutive singles to load the bases. Hernandez walked Jorge Flores on a 3-and-2 count to push Sosa across with the tying run. With two outs, Yadir Drake stepped up and crushed a grand slam to straightaway center, giving the visitors a 5-1 advantage they'd never relinquish.


            After giving up that one first-inning run, Yucatan starter Yoanner Negrin didn't allow another score through seven frames to earn the win. Sosa, Aguilar and Alex Liddi each had two of the Leones' ten hits, but it was Drake's homer that made all the difference in sending 14,989 onlookers at Estadio Nacional home disappointed.


GAME 3 (Thursday, September 9): YUCATAN 2, Tijuana 0


            After going 1-for-7 over the first two games, Luis Juarez broke his relative silence with a two-run homer (his tenth of the postseason) in the first inning and that was all Yucatan starter Jake Thompson and four relievers would need in posting a combined 2-0 shutout as 6,420 aficionados watched in Merida's “sold out” Parque Kukulkan, which was limited to 40 percent capacity due to the pandemic. Yadir Drake had drawn a two-out walk before Juarez stepped up and slammed Joe Van Meter's first pitch over the left field wall.


            Thompson, who had to wait through a pregame rain delay lasting over two hours, scattered five hits over five innings for the win and Josh Lueke earned the save for Yucatan with a 1-2-3 ninth. Van Meter settled down to pitch scoreless ball until two outs in the fifth inning, but that one pitch to Juarez proved to be his undoing. Tijuana's Gabriel Gutierrez was the lone batter with more than one hit, collecting two singles off Thompson.


GAME 4 (Saturday, September 11): Tijuana 6, YUCATAN 2


            After Thursday's rain delay held up Game 3, Friday's Game 4 was postponed until Saturday by more rain. Yadier Drake singled in one run and scored another on Alex Liddi's sacrifice fly to give Yucatan a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. The Toros stretched their scoreless streak to 19 innings before Isaac Rodriguez tallied on Junior Lake's sacrifice fly in the top of the third. Tijuana would then score at least one more run in the third, fourth and fifth innings as Efren Navarro belted a two-run homer in the fourth and Gabriel Gutierrez singled in two more in the fifth, putting the game out of reach.


            Teddy Stankiewicz replaced Michael Devine in the third with the Toros trailing 2-1, then pitched 3.1 innings of one-hit ball and was the beneficiary of TJ's mid-game offensive awakening, earning the win. Leones starter Casey Harman dished up Navarro's homer and was tagged for the loss as the visitors outhit Yucatan by a 14-to-5 margin as another “sellout” crowd of 6,420 watched the contest.


GAME 5 (Sunday, September 12): Tijuana 4, YUCATAN 3


            Junior Lake singled and Leandro Castro lofted a homer off Yucatan starter Rhadames Liz over the left field wall to give Tijuana a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. The Toros scored again in the top of the second when Luis Alfonso Cruz launched Liz' first pitch of the frame for a homer to left. A Cruz throwing error from third base in the bottom of the second allowed Jose Juan Aguilar to score from first with the Leones' first run. The teams traded zeros into the bottom of the fifth, when Yadir Drake sliced a two-out, opposite-field double and later motored home from second on an Alex Liddi single up the middle to narrow the Bulls' lead to 3-2.


            That's where the score stayed until the bottom of the ninth, when Fernando Rodney gave up a double to Alex Liddi that scored Yadir Drake from second and ultimately sent the game into extra innings. The game remained tied until Xavier Carrillo's bloop single in the top of the eleventh plated Gabriel Gutierrez, giving the Toros a 4-3 lead. The Leones had runners at first and second with one out in the bottom of the eleventh, but Junior Lake made a diving catch of Luis Juarez' sinking liner to center for one out, then threw to second to double up Walter Ibarra for the last out of the game, which drew another 6,420 onlookers.


            Rodney tossed the final three innings on 47 pitches to earn the win while Yucatan reliever Manuel Chavez, who gave up Carrillo's RBI single was tagged with the loss.





            There's an old adage that life is about the journey than the destination, but pitcher Manny Barreda may be forgiven if he thinks, “Forget that noise...give me the destination!”


            After 15 years of pitching for four Major League Baseball organizations, the 5'11” righthander finally made his big league debut last Wednesday (one month shy of his 33rd birthday) when Barreda entered a game for Baltimore in the eighth inning trailing Kansas City, 5-0, at Camden Yards. Barreda not only retired the Royals in order (striking out the Royals' Michael Taylor looking to end the top of the eighth), he was awarded the win after the Orioles scored NINE runs in the bottom of the eighth and held on to beat Kansas City, 9-8, as a gathering of 4,965 watched the hapless O's bring their record up to an MLB-worst 45-93.


            Not that Barreda minded the sparse attendance nor the lost season his new team was in when he first joined them after his September 7 call-up. For the native of Sahuarita, Arizona, it was the culmination of a long apprenticeship that began in 2007 when he was taken by the Yankees in the 12th round of that year's draft.


            After going 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA in eleven outings (including three starts) for the Yanks' Gulf Coast League team, Barreda spent eight summers in their system before being released in 2014, after which he signed with Milwaukee. He spent two years in the Brewers' minors before signing with Tijuana of the Mexican League in late 2015 as a middle reliever, a role he'd held his entire career except for six starts with Class A Charleston in 2011. Barreda continued as a middleman for the Toros in 2016, going 2-1 with a .350 ERA in 25 outings that summer.


            Then a funny thing happened in Los Mochis, where he spent the 2016-17 Mexican Pacific League winterball season: The Caneros made Barreda a starter and he was 4-3, leading the LMP with a 2.20 ERA and finishing third with 66 strikeouts. He threw a no-hitter against Hermosillo that season, requiring 138 pitches to subdue the Naranjeros, 2-0. Weeks later, Barreda signed a free agent contract with Atlanta.


            The Braves then shipped him back to Tijuana for the 2017 season, and he rewarded the Toros with his second no-hitter in eight months, beating Tabasco, 4-0, that July on 145 pitches. He was eventually brought up to Atlanta's AAA Gwinnett affiliate and rewarded them by turning in a 3-1 record and 1.83 ERA in seven starts, earning the International League's Pitcher of the Week award on September 4. Even with those credentials, Barreda not only didn't get called up to the big leagues, he was sent back to Tijuana for 2018 and 2019.


            After missing the 2020 season due to the pandemic, Barreda had a strong LMP season for pennant-winning Culiacan and earned the Tomateros' lone win at the Caribbean Series in Mazatlan, after which he was signed by Baltimore. The Sahaurita, Arizona native pitched one inning in relief at AA Bowie and was promoted to AAA Norfolk in June, where he was 1-2 with two saves and a 4.19 ERA before last week's call to Baltimore.


            Although he's been rocked a bit in subsequent relief appearances for the Orioles against Kansas City and Toronto (his ERA as of Saturday night was 13.50 and he'd given up homers to the Royals' Hunter Dozier and Teoscar Hernandez of the Blue Jays), Manny Barreda has to be ecstatic to finally be getting his first chance to pitch at the major league level after years of waiting. It's been a long, long journey he hopes is finally over.





            The Tijuana Toros got off to a rocky start in the this season's Serie del Rey, losing the first three games to Yucatan in an attempt to win the border city's second Mexican League pennant. They aren't the only team to face similar long odds for a comeback, of course, but just one team overcame an 0-3 deficit to capture the flag fifty years ago this week.


            Carlos Meza of Septima Entrada took a look back in time last week to recall when that team roared back with four straight wins to stun the Saltillo Saraperos for the championship. Here's an edited Google translation of his column:



 Charros celebrate 1971

           Fifty years ago, an unprecedented event occurred in the Mexican Baseball League: For the first and only time in a championship series, a team recovered from a 0-3 deficit to win the title. The protagonist of that story? The Jalisco Charros.


            And there can't be a great story without drama. In that season, the Charros made the playoffs on the last day of the regular season as the Mexico City Diablos Rojos fell in Veracruz, so Jalisco remained with the leadership of the LMB South and would face the leaders of the North, the Saltillo Saraperos.


            But a few days before the Final Series, Charros owner Álvaro Lebrija ran out of patience with pitchers Cecilio Acosta, Enrique Romo and Martín Raygoza and suspended them. "Discipline is more important than the title," they say the owner declared after the decision.


            But Saltillo manager Tomás Herrera's team delivered three almost-fulminating hits: On August 10 and 11, 1971, the Saraperos won games at the Estadio Tecnologico in Guadalajara and on the 13th, they also took a victory in Saltillo.


            Everything was ready for a great party in Coahuila in the fourth game of the series. However, rain canceled the game and the Saltillo board decided to carry out a doubleheader the next day so that local fans could see their club be crowned in Sunday.


            But everything changed. The Charros showed pride and beat Saraperos, 6-3 and 4-2, at Estadio Francisco I. Madero, narrowing the margin to 3-games-to-2 and forcing the Final Series to return to Guadalajara.


            “The God Tlaloc helped them with the rest day and the series returned to Guadalajara,” recalls current Charros Mexican Pacific League co-owner Armando Navarro, who as a fan experienced those finals in a packed Estadio Tecnologico. “They couldn't stop them anymore.”


            In the sixth game, reliever Manuel Lugo had to start the game and although the plan was for him to pitch four innings, he ended up pitching all nine. The Saraperos led, 2-0, on the scoreboard but the Charros rallied with run-scoring singles by Bill Parlier and Clemente Rosas to win the game, 3-2, and equalize the grand finale.


            Then on Wednesday, August 18, the decisive game was played. Pablo Torrealba opened for Jalisco and Andrés Ayón for Saltillo, and the latter had a bad night.


            Jalisco scored in the first inning and Torrealba hung up six zeros. At the end of the sixth, Parlier hit a home run to make it 3-0 and sent Tech Stadium boiling. Singles by Francisco Campos and Francisco Menchaca would add two more scores for the five runs the Charros would score that day. The visitors responded with a home run by Jungla Salinas in the ninth inning, but everything was already written with a 5-1 on the board.

            That 1971 Jalisco team (the second and last one to win an LMB pennant) was under the command of young manager Benjamin “Cananea” Reyes. The Guadalajara nine had heroes like pitchers Máximino León, Pablo Torrealba, Ernesto Córdoba and Manuel Lugo as well as players like Jaime Corella, Clemente Rosas, Francisco Campos, Roberto Mendez, Lauro Villalobos and Roberto Castellón.



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