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The Yucatan Leones have proven that they are not phased when facing elimination from a playoff series. After overcoming a 3-games-to-1 deficit to defeat Mexico City for the Mexican League South Division championship series, the Lions delayed their offseason one more day with a 6-2 Game Six win Sunday in front of a full house of 21,909 at Estadio Monterrey to force a seventh and deciding Serie del Rey game against the Sultanes Monday night. All six games of the LMB title series have had sellout crowds and with all tickets gone for Monday’s Game Seven, a total of 132,387 fans will have clicked the turnstiles, an average of 18,912 per opening.
Manager Roberto Vizcarra’s charges never trailed Sunday after taking a 2-0 first-inning lead on Cristhian Adames’ two-run double with two out off Monterrey starter Cristian Castillo, the 2016 Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year as a Royals farmhand. The Leones built a 3-1 lead before the Sultanes made it a one-run contest in the bottom of the seventh when Gustavo Nunez tagged third and scored on Sebastian Elizalde’s sacrifice fly to center, but Yucatan put the game in their hip pocket with three more runs in the top of the eighth as Yadir Drake and Luis Juarez contributed RBI singles. Jorge Rondon held the Sultanes scoreless over the last two innings in relief to close out the win.
Adames was 2-for-5 for the night with a double, a run scored and three RBIs for the winners while Juarez singled and scored twice. Victor Mendoza went 2-for-3 for Monterrey, doubling in Zoilo Almonte with the Sultanes’ first run in the fourth off Yucatan starter Onelki Garcia. Hunter Cervenka pitched one shutout entrada for the Leones and was awarded the win while Castillo absorbed the loss for Monterrey.
The Sultanes took the Serie del Rey lead by winning two of three games on the road last week in Merida, where sellout crowds of 14,917 packed Parque Kukulkan for all three tilts. After rain washed out Game Three on Tuesday night, the two teams were able to take the field Wednesday. Yucatan gained a 2-games-to-1 advantage with a 6-1 win behind the standout pitching of ex-MLBer Henderson Alvarez, who was supported by a pair of three-run innings from his teammates. Alvarez lasted Vizcarra lifted him with two out in the top of the eight, by which time he’d scattered seven hits and allowed one unearned run.
Yadir Drake drove in the first run of the night in the bottom of the second by doubling in Jose Martinez from second. Sebastian Valle’s one-out single brought home Cristhian Adames and a Norberto Obeso sacrifice fly to left plated Drake from third. The lone Monterrey run came in the fifth, when Jose Cardona’s infield single moved Ramiro Pena to third and Pena scampered home after an errant throw from Adames at shortstop. The Leones pushed three insurance runs across in the bottom of the fifth as Art Charles and Martinez each had run-scoring singles. Charles, Martinez and Adames combined for six hits, three runs and two RBI for Yucatan while Pena doubled twice off Alvarez for the Sultanes.
The visitors bounced back to win the next two games, including Thursday’s 5-0 whitewash in Game Four behind the five shutout innings from 2022 ERA champ Yohander Mendez, who allowed three hits and struck out six Yucatan batsmen.
All five Sultanes runs came via the longball as Elizalde socked a two-run homer off Leones starter Jake Thompson in the top of the first after rain delayed the game’s start by a half-hour. Mendoza victimized Thompson, a former Phillies starter, two innings later with a three-run bomb of his own to end the scoring for the night. At that point, Vizcarra replaced Thompson with Yoanner Negrin and while the 2016 LMB Pitcher of the Year gave the Leones three scoreless innings, the damage was done as Yucatan collected just six hits (two each for Drake and Josh Fuentes) and went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position for the night.
Monterrey pulled ahead in the series Friday night by virtue of a 6-3 win to take a 3-games-to-2 advantage. Yucatan did lead, 3-2, in the bottom of the fifth after a Luis Juarez double drove in Valle from second and a Charles line-drive single brought home Obeso, but Orlando Calixte’s two-run roundtripper in the top of the seventh regained the Sultanes’ lead and Monterrey salted the contest away with a pair of runs one inning later on an Elizade single and an Almonte double. Yucatan did have runners on first and second with one out in the eighth, but reliever Carlos Morales settled down and got Drake to fly out to right and struck out pinch-hitter Lazaro Alfonso swinging on a 3-2 pitch to end the threat.
Juan Gamez earned the win after manager Roberto Kelly brought him in to replace a struggling Julio Teheran (4.1 IP, 3 R, 5 H, 3 BB) in the fifth and tossed 1.2 frames of shutout ball. Neftali Feliz held the Leones scoreless in the ninth to record his second save of the Serie del Rey. Yucatan starter Elian Leyva pitched well enough to win (6 IP, 2 R, 4H), although he did allow an Almonte homer in the second, but Cervenka gave up Calixte’s go-ahead homer in the seventh and absorbed the loss.
Monday night’s game marks the third consecutive season that the Serie del Rey has gone a full seven games. Alvarez will start for Yucatan in the contest, which is slated to begin at 7:30PM EDT, while Mendez will open for Monterrey.
GIL: MENESES TO PLAY FOR CULIACAN IN SECOND HALF
Former major league shortstop Benji Gil, who is wrapping up his first season as a coach with the Los Angeles Angels under interim manager Phil Nevin, says he should return to his managerial post in Culiacan just prior to the coming Mexican Pacific League season, when the Tomateros will seek their fourth pennant in six winters.
However, Gil said, there is one player who will not joining him next month for the start of the 2022-23 campaign: Longtime Tomateros slugger Joey Meneses, a Culiacan native who has spent all or part of nine seasons playing for his hometown team. Gil adds that Meneses is expected to join the Tomateros when the second half of the LMP schedule begins in November.
Although he’s become a minor sensation in Washington since his August 2 big league debut for the Nationals at age 30 (becoming the first Mexican to homer in his first MLB game), Meneses’ baseball journey during the summer has taken several twists and turns since he first signed with the Atlanta Braves as a 19-year-old free agent in 2011. Beginning with a less-than-impressive 19-game stint that year with the Braves’ Dominican Summer League entry (for whom he hit .206 with no extra-base hits), Meneses spent seven years in the Atlanta system and was an organizational All-Star in both 2014 and 2019 but never rose above Class AA Mississippi, for whom he was a Southern League midseason All-Star in 2017.
After that season, Meneses filed for free agency and signed with Philadelphia, who assigned him to AAA Lehigh Valley, where he was named the 2018 International League MVP after batting .311 and leading the loop with 23 homers and 82 RBIs. That earned him a one-year US$950,000 contract with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League. After struggling at the start of his first season in Asia (.206 with 4 homers in 29 games), the 6’3” first baseman-outfielder was suspended for one year in June 2019 after testing positive for Stanozolal (a steroid) and the Buffaloes subsequently voided his contract.
After sitting out the 2020 summer season, Meneses signed as a free agent with Boston last year, splitting 2021 between AA Portland and AAA Worcester, before signing with Washington this season. Meneses hit .286 with 20 homers in 96 games at AAA Rochester before his August call-up. Since then, he’s hit .317 with 9 homers and 23 RBIs over 39 games for the Nationals. Meneses has never played in the Mexican League.
Although his summers have often been frustrating at best, Meneses has returned home every winter to play for the Tomateros since 2013-14. In 453 games over nine LMP seasons, the right-handed batter has hit .283 with 42 homers and 268 ribbies, appearing in five Caribbean Series including last February in Mazatlan, where he hit .158 as a pickup for the Jalisco Charros and manager Roberto Vizcarra.
PEREYRA: MEXICAN WOMEN SHOWING THEY CAN PLAY, TOO
The Mexican National Women’s Baseball Team secured a berth in next year’s World Championship tournament, the first time the country will appear in that event, after securing a bronze medal at the Americas Qualifier in Venezuela last month. As Beatriz Pereyra of Mexico City’s Proceso writes, it marks one more step in the process of women being seen simply as “ballplayers” south of the border instead of being limited to playing softball in the public’s perception.
The following is a Google translation of Pereyra’s piece in Proceso, lightly edited for clarity:
The members of the Mexican Women's Baseball Team have something in common: as girls they began playing baseball with boys in some leagues in the country, then were forced to switch to softball because they were not allowed to compete with men. Players like Rosi del Castillo, Dafne Mejía and Samaria Benítez from Nayarit have become known for being the first to participate in men's amateur or semi-professional leagues. On the way to Mexico's participation in its first World Cup and given the lack of infrastructure for them in the ninth, they warn: "People need to believe that women can also play baseball."
Despite the fact that Mexican women's baseball is in an incipient stage, the national team qualified for the 2023 World Championship, a tournament in which Mexico will have its first international participation.
The squad, made up of 21 players from different states, is currently ranked 12th in the world. Recently, they won the bronze medal at the Venezuela 2022 Women's Baseball Pre-World Championship, where five other teams participated: Venezuela (5th in the world), the Dominican Republic (6th), Cuba (7th) Puerto Rico (9) and Nicaragua (17th).
This is the second time in which the Mexican Women's Baseball Team gets its ticket to the World Cup which in this edition, its first stage will be played in 2023 and the rest in the summer of 2024, with dates and venues to be defined. The first time they qualified was in the 2019 Aguascalientes Pre-World Cup tournament. However, the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) decided to cancel the 2020 World Cup event as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.
The Mexican team is made up of “veteran” players such as Dafne Mejía (30 years old) and Thalía Villavicencio (34) plus other younger ones such as Rosi del Castillo from Puebla and María José Valenzuela from Sonora (both 24 years old), but all with a lot of experience because they have played baseball since they were very young. Regardless of her deafness since birth, Valenzuela, the only Sonoran on the team, is one of the most outstanding players.
“It has been an important achievement. We were able to transcend, we classified as we wanted and one goal was to bring the medal that we couldn't before,” says Mejia, who was Mexico’s designated hitter in Venezuela. “ Although it was not gold, we are proud of that achievement, of giving Mexico a medal.”
Sisters Laura and Melody Cortés Tapia also stand out in the team as daughters of Julio Cortés, a promoter of women's baseball in the city of Pachuca, where he runs the Rancho Beisbolero Academy. They are joined by pitchers of the quality of Adriana Palma from Yucatan, Marlene Lagunes from Veracruz and Narda Andrade from Puebla, catchers Itza Hernández and Marcela Díaz, who is a player in Mexico City’s Anahuac League.
Almost all of them have followed the same process in their careers as ballplayers: as girls they started playing baseball with boys in some little league, then they were forced to switch to softball because they are not allowed to participate with men, but they clung to staying in the sport they love.
Players such as Rosi del Castillo, Dafne Mejía and Samaria Benítez from Nayarit have become known because they have been pioneers in participating in men's amateur or semi-professional leagues, because if women's baseball still lacks something, it is that it does not have the facilities and enough coaches that is not an appendage of men's baseball.