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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
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 Toros celebrate           The Tijuana Toros completed their improbable comeback in the Mexican League championship series by winning the last two games of the best-of-seven set, including a 3-0 Game Seven victory last Wednesday night as the Toros became only the second team in the Liga's 95-year history to overcome a 3-game-to-0 deficit and win the LMB finals with four consecutive triumph (the Jalisco Charros were the first in 1971).


            The following is a wrap of the final two games of the 2021 Mexican League season:


GAME 6 (Tuesday, September 14): TIJUANA 10, Yucatan 3


            The Toros continued their comeback effort last Tuesday night with a 10-3 trouncing of Yucatan in Game Six at home. Efren Navarro was the man of the match after driving in six runs on four hits (including a three-run double) between the fourth and seventh innings as 16,998 aficionados at Estadio Nacional watched the action.


            The Leones took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third when Yadier Drake doubled to right scored Norberto Obeso and then scored on a Luis Juarez single. A Navarro single to right in the bottom of the fourth plated Daniel Castro and Junior Lake to tie the game but it was Luis Alfonso Cruz' three-run, line-drive homer to left that capped the Toros' five-run outburst and put TJ ahead for good. Jorge Flores came in on a Drake sacrifice fly to bring Yucatan with 5-3 in the top of the fifth, but Navarro's bases-loaded double brought the Bulls' lead up to 8-3 and run-scoring hits from Castro (a double) and Navarro in the seventh ended the scoring for the night.


            6'7” reliever Michael Tonkin was awarded the win for Tijuana  with a perfect 1.2 innings out of the bullpen while Leones starter Yoanner Negrin suffered the loss after being tagged for eight runs in 4.1 frames. Both Castros (Daniel and Leandro) had three hits each for the Toros while Obeso and Flores had two hits apiece for the visitors from Merida.


GAME 7 (Wednesday, September 15): TIJUANA 3, Yucatan 0


            Peter O'Brien broke a scoreless tie by socking an opposite-field solo homer to right off Yucatan starter Jake Thompson in the bottom of the third inning, and that turned out to be enough for Tijuana pitcher Teddy Stankiewicz and three relievers to combine on a three-hitter during the Toros' 3-0 shutout over the Leones, completing the border city's unlikely comeback in front of 17,687 at Estadio Nacional.


            Tijuana added insurance runs in the fifth inning (on Leandro Castro's RBI single) and seventh frame (when Isaac Rodriguez drew a walk and came all the way to score on a throwing error by Yucatan third baseman Alex Liddi), but the story of the game was the Toros' pitching. Stankiewicz retired the first nine batters he faced and went on to scatter three hits over six innings with a half-dozen strikeouts to earn the win. Former MLB All-Star Fernando Rodney closed out the game with a perfect ninth inning during which he threw 10 strikes on 13 pitches, the last one getting Art Charles swinging for the save and the final out of the season.


 Junior Lake           Junior Lake led the champions with three hits while Gabriel Gutierrez added a pair of singles but the big blow belonged to O'Brien as the Toros outhit the visitors by a 10-to-3 margin (as Yucatan got one-baggers from Norberto Obeso, Luis Juarez and Juan Jose Aguilar). Thompson absorbed the loss for the Leones after allowing two runs on five hits over 4.2 innings. Tijuana first baseman Efren Navarro was announced as the Serie del Rey MVP due to his .308 batting average over the seven games, including four hits and six RBIs in Game Six.





            As columnist David Braverman noted in a recent Out 27 column in Puro Beisbol, the Mayor of Mazatlán, Luis Guillermo Benítez Torres, confirmed that a group of businessmen are in very advanced talks to finalize a franchise of the Mexican Baseball League in the port city.


            Braverman announced that the brothers Jose Juan and Erick Arellano brothers (owners of the Yucatán Leones), have been negotiating to purchase and move the Aguascalientes Rieleros to Mazatlán, their hometown. Benítez denied the Arellanos' involvement, claiming that there are other businessmen involved.


            Sources assured Puro Beisbol that the other club with a possible move to the port are the Durango Generales, who were recently purchased by Venezuelan Carlos Lazo, an entrepreneur who's lived in Guadalajara for 15 years. Juan Carlos Martinez, who sold the team to Lazo after owning it less than two years, told Durango's El Siglio newspaper that Lazo would not move the team out of town. However, the Generales have struggled on the field and in the box office since 2017, their first season in the western Mexico city after being moved there from the Gulf of Mexico resort city of Carmen, and it would not be out of the question for Lazo to cast an eye upon Mazatlan (a smaller city than Durango but with a nicer ballpark and great support for the Mexican Pacific League's Venados).


            Mazatlan mayor Benitez has reportedly held talks with Mexican League president Horacio de la Vega as well as the Arellano brothers and sounded like a man who expects summer baseball to be played at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal once arrangements are finalized. "The issue of the stadium is being legally addressed," Benítez was quoted as saying in Puro Beisbol.


            "Many levels of government have intervened because summer baseball is coming. Summer baseball is not going to be handled by the company that has winter baseball (Jose Antonio Toledo and family)...others are going to handle it," he added, without specifying who.

If the move is made, Mazatlán would be the third city in the country with professional baseball all year with LMP and LMB teams, along with with Guadalajara and Monterrey.


            The Arellano brothers have sought to bring baseball to Mazatlán since joining the LMB in 2013 when they acquired the Lions, and then the idea for the Mariners emerged. However, when questioned about their potential ownership of a Mazatlan Mexican League franchise, Benitez replied, "This group is not going to handle summer baseball at all. They are with the Yucatán Leones.”


            The Arellano brothers bought the financially-ailing Laguna Vaqueros a few years after purchasing the team in Merida, with the idea of moving the Vaqueros to Mazatlan and renaming them the Marineros (a moniker they would reportedly use if the Rieleros are bought and relocated to the Pacific coast). However, after owning the Torreon team for a year and experiencing questions about their finances, the Arellanos sold the Vaqueros to local interests, who renamed the club the Union Laguna Algodoneros.


            Some assume that the Toledo family will continue to controls concessions at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal, but the mayor clarified that the park belongs to the Mazatlán City Council. "They are already working on that. As soon as they specify it they will make it known. There will be no problem with the stadium, since the property does not belong to any businessman, it belongs to the City Council."


            The Toledos have been embroiled with the City of Mazatlan in a myriad of issues almost since the ballpark reopened in 2018 after extensive renovations were completed. At one point early last year, the Venados were physically removed from their on-site offices after claims that they did not live up to a signed agreement allowing them to operate the facility. Although the dispute was put on hold long enough for the Venados to play home games and host the Caribbean Series last winter, nothing has actually been resolved between the two warring sides.



MAESTROS OF MEXICO: Hector Espino, 1B (1960-84)


            During BBM's Viva Beisbol days between 2005-07, we ran a series of profiles on top players with ties to Mexican baseball titled Maestros of Mexico. The Maestros will be resurrected for the rest of 2021 as space permits but unlike the original series (which included players who were born outside or never played inside Mexico), this installment will feature only Mexican-born players who spent time in the Mexican or Mexican Pacific Leagues. We'll lead off with the legendary “Superman of Chihuahua,” Hector Espino:


            The consensus pick among fans as the greatest player in Mexican baseball history, Hector Espino was known as "The Babe Ruth of Mexico" during his 24-year career. Playing in the Mexican League primarily for Monterrey or Tampico between 1962 and 1984, the right-handed Espino retired as minor league baseball's all-time home run king with 484 (453 in the LMB). He led the LMB in homers four times, including a career-high 46 for the Sultanes in 1964. The 5'10" 192-pounder from Chihuahua also drove in 1,573 runs in his LMB career and hung up his spikes with a cool .335 batting mark. He hit better than .300 every year but one in the Liga between 1962 through 1980, winning three straight batting titles between 1966 and 1968 and four overall.


            As a 20-year-old outfielder, Espino broke into pro ball in 1960 with San Luis Potosi in the Class A Mexican Center League and  pounded  pitchers for a .363 batting average with 20 homers and 60 RBI’s in 63 games that year. After an abbreviated season with SLP in 1961, he broke into the Mexican League with Monterrey in 1962.  Espino blasted his way to a .358 average with 23 homers and led the Liga with 106 runs and 105 RBI’s.  Although he missed a chunk of the following season, playing just 99 games, he still belted 24 homers and drove in 80 runs en route to a .346 average for the Sultanes in 1963. 


            He shifted from the outfield to first base in 1964 for what proved to be his greatest season, just missing the LMB Triple Crown with a Liga-best .371 average, a career high 46 homers (also tops in Mexico) and 117 RBI’s, drawing interest from major league teams.  St. Louis finally won the bidding war for his contract from Monterrey.


            Espino played briefly for the Cardinals' AAA farm team in Jacksonville at the end of the 1964 season. He hit well (batting .300 with three homers in 32 games), but his time in the International League was not pleasant.  Playing during the Civil Rights era with home games in Florida and road trips to such Southern cities as Richmond and Atlanta, the proud Espino was reportedly so offended by the racism he encountered while playing in the IL that he went home to Mexico during season and never returned to play in the United States again despite several offers over the years.


            His return to Mexico in 1965 was abbreviated (.335/17/48 in 67 games), but he reeled off the first of four consecutive standout seasons in Monterrey in 1966, winning one of three straight batting crowns (.369) and clubbing 31 homers.  He then led the Liga with a career-best .379 (including 34 homers) in 1967, then hit .365 and led the LMB with 27 roundtrippers for 1968.  Espino fell to .304 in 1969 but led the Liga again  with 37 homers. After a subpar (for him) 1970, he was dealt to the Tampico Alijadores in 1971.


            Over eight seasons in Tampico (with short stops at Mexico City and Tabasco in 1975), Espino batted .335 with 159 homers and 600 RBIs. Starting in 1979, he embarked on a an odyssey, playing for six different teams in three seasons before returning to Monterrey as a part-timer in 1982.  After hitting .220 with one homer in 20 games in 1984, the 45-year-old Espino retired in July of that season.


His record in winter ball was also impressive. In 24 Mexican Pacific League seasons (all with Hermosillo), he won an amazing 13 batting titles and six home run crowns en route to a career average of .329 with 299 homers and 1,029 RBIs while leading the Naranjeros to Mexico's first Caribbean Series win in 1976 and playing in six tournaments overall. A six-time LMP MVP, Hermosillo's ballpark was renamed after him while he was still an active player.  Espino was inducted as a member of the Salon de Fama in 1988 and is also enshrined in the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame. In all, he blasted a combined 4,576 hits with 752 homers with 2,602 playing year-round in both the Liga and Mex Pac.


            Hector Espino (who passed away at 58 in 1997) was beloved by fans across Mexico because he combined his great skills in baseball with a pride and loyalty to his country to become the face of Mexican baseball for two decades. He was a true national hero and his number 21 has been retired by all Mexican professional teams.


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