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LEONES TOP SULTANES, 6-1, IN GAME 7 TO WIN LMB CROWN
The Yucatan Lions were crowned Mexican League champions for the fifth time in their history last Monday, thanks to pitcher Henderson Alvarez and outfielder Jose “Cafecito” Martinez. The Merida squad joins their predecessors from 1957, 1984, 2006 and Spring 2018 as pennant-winners, leaving behind two consecutive defeats in the Serie del Rey after skipper Roberto Vizcarra and his players defeated the Monterrey Sultanes, 6-1, in the seventh and deciding game as a sellout crowd of 21,909 at Estadio Monterrey looked on.
Nicknamed “Chapo,” the 55-year-old Vizcarra managed Yucatan’s Spring 2018 champions before parting ways with Leones owners Juan Jose and Erick Arellano after a first-round playoff exit in the second abbreviated Fall 2018 season. Vizcarra was brought back to manage Yucatan on May 30 when Luis Matos was relieved of his duties after piloting the Merida club to a 14-19 record, marking the third mid-year change at the helm in as many seasons for the Leones and sixth such move since 2013. Yucatan went 32-24 the rest of the way under Vizcarra to finish fourth in the LMB South during the regular season before defeating Puebla, Quintana Roo and Mexico City in the playoffs to reach the title series against manager Roberto Kelly’s Sultanes. He managed Jalisco to a Mexican Pacific League pennant last winter.
The Leones were paced in Game Seven by the mound work of Alvarez, a former big league starter in Toronto and Miami who was selected to the 2014 All-Star Game as the Marlins representative but did not appear. The 31-year-old Venezuelan tossed eight-plus innings of one-run ball and scattered seven hits to earn the win on the heels of 7.2 shutout innings in a Game Three triumph, and was named the Serie del Rey Most Valuable Player for 2022 by media members.
After driving in just one run over the first six games of the finals, Martinez picked the right time to wake his bat up for the winners, doubling in Norberto Obeso in the top of the first to put the visitors on the scoreboard, scoring Obeso on a single in the fifth and then crashing a three-run homer off Wander Suero in the seventh to bring in Obeso and Art Charles before crossing the plate himself. Walter Ibarra stroked a solo homer off Monterrey closer Neftali Feliz in the top of the ninth to give Yucatan a 6-0 lead.
Alvarez came out in the bottom of the frame to complete his complete game shutout bid but after Sultanes leadoff batter Zoilo Almonte deposited a 1-1 pitch (Alvarez’ 102nd of the game) over the left field wall, Vizcarra brought Jorge Rondon from the bullpen to complete the inning and season by holding Monterrey scoreless the rest of the way.
Martinez, who grew up 125 miles from Alvarez in Venezuela, finished the night 4-for-5 at the plate with five RBIs for Yucatan while Orlando Calixte had three singles and Almonte homered and singled for the Sultanes. Yoanner Mendez had a decent start for Monterrey, allowing two runs on five hits over 4.2 innings, but was no match for Alvarez and took the loss.
With this title, the Leones win their fifth flag to equal the Dos Laredos Tecolotes as for fifth among LMB teams with the most pennants (Mexico City has 16, the Quintana Roo Tigres have 12 and Monterrey has won 10). Vizcarra climbs in the record books to third place among managers with the most titles in the LMB, reaching four (2013 and 2015 with the Tigres, Spring 2018 and 2022 with Yucatan) to trail only Lazaro Salazar (7) and Benjamin “Cananea” Reyes (6).
TIJUANA, MEXICALI SPLIT CLASICOCON CAUSA SERIES
While the Mexican League was wrapping up its 2022 season in Monterrey, the Mexican Pacific League’s ten teams were already in full training camp mode. Although their season had officially ended with their elimination by Monterrey in the LMB North Division championship series, the Tijuana Toros were able to assemble a squad to play a two-game “Clasico con Causa” (“Classic with a Cause”) series against the LMP Mexicali Aguilas as a fundraiser for two cancer-fighting organizations, the Fundacion Mujeres Que Viven of Mexicali and Fundacion Castro Limon of Tijuana.
The short set opened Friday night in Mexicali at a sold out El Nido ballpark with a resounding 9-1 win before 13,000 fanaticos for the host Aguilas, who broke the game open early with an 8-run third inning, aided by a pair of costly Toros errors. Tijuana had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Junior Lake scored from third on a Zach Kirtley single up the middle off Eagles starter Eduardo Vera. The lone run held until the fateful third, which was keyed by Kevin Zamudio’s two-run double and an RBI single by venerable Aguilas outfielder Chris Roberson.
A 43-year-old Californian who hit .317 with 10 homers and nine steals in 78 Mexican League games between Leon and Monclova in his 22nd summer of pro ball, Roberson is a naturalized Mexican citizen who has settled his family in Monterrey and is arguably the most beloved American ballplayer south of the border today. He received a warm ovation from Mexicali fans, for whom he’d played nine winterball seasons before spending the last two Mex Pac campaigns in Mazatlan, when he was pulled for pinch-runner Israel Camacho after his one-bagger.
Mexicali reliever Thomas Melgarejo was awarded the win after the left-hander had a strong outing out of the bullpen while Daniel de la Fuente’s disastrous third inning was enough to tag him with the loss.
The second and closing game of the historic first series between the two neighboring border cities was held Saturday in Tijuana as the Toros held off Mexicali, 6-4, at Estadio Nacional with 12,974 onlookers in the stands.
Tijuana again drew first blood in the opening inning, taking a 3-0 lead on a Jose Guadalupe Chavez single that scored Isaac Rodriguez and a double from Agustin Murillo that plated Lake and Felix Perez. Mexicali woke the scorekeeper in the top of the third when Yahir Gamez socked a homer over the left field wall to close the gap to two runs, but Perez responded with a two-run roundtripper of his own to right in the bottom of the entrada to stretch the Bulls’ advantage to 5-1.
Not to be put away that easily, the Aguilas made it a 5-3 game in the top of the fourth on Fernando Diaz’ two-run single but Perez put the game away in the bottom of the eighth with a run-scoring safety to bring the Toros’ lead to 6-3 and while Mexicali scored one more time in the top of the ninth, the visitors ran out of outs to fall by a pair of runs.
Perez did more than just homer and drive in three runs for the winners. The 37-year-old Cuban expat, who’d spent five years in the Reds system before coming to Mexico in 2015, pitched a scoreless fifth inning and was awarded the victory. The 6’2” lefty, who hit .323 with 38 homers to tie Saltillo’s Rainel Rosario for most in the Liga this summer, made four relief appearances for his hometown Isla de la Juventud team in the Cuban National Series and tossed two-thirds of an inning for AAA Louisville in 2014, allowing nine runs on six hits and five walks. Maybe he’s been working on his slider.
MEXICO FINISHES SIXTH AT U-18 BASEBALL WORLD CUP
After a fairly promising start in which they won three of five first round games at the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup at spring training sites in Bradenton and Sarasota, Florida, the Mexican U-18 National Team lost all three of their Super Round games to finish sixth overall in the 12-team event earlier this month under manager Enrique “Che” Reyes.
Mexico opened Group B play on Saturday, September 10 with a 9-5 win over Australia at Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium, spring home of the Baltimore Orioles. Rosman Verdugo doubled in Carlos Gutierrez with the first run of the game for the Mexicans in the top of the first inning, followed by an RBI single from Yael Romero, who later scored on an Alberto Barriga groundout. A two-run Romero double capped a four-run fourth inning in which Mexico opened a 7-0 lead and never looked back. Romero finished with four RBIs on the night while starter Manuel Rodriguez tossed four innings of one-run ball to earn the win.
One day later, a three-run first for Japan was the difference as the top-ranked team went on to top Mexico, 4-1, at the former McKechnie Field in Bradenton, spring headquarters of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1969. The key hit for Japan in the first was a two-run, two-out single to right by Kaito Ito of Mexico starter Angel Sanchez that gave the visiting team a 3-0 lead that turned out to be insurmountable. Mexican batters could only muster one run on four hits, including a Romero single that drove in Verdugo in the fifth, against winner Kazuki Kozai and reliever Haruya Miyahara. Kozai allowed one hit in four shutout innings. Sanchez took the loss for Mexico.
Mexico bounced back on September 12 with a 12-7 triumph over Italy in Bradenton as leadoff hitter Antonis Macias went 4-for-5 with a triple, two RBIs and a run scored for the victors. Italy held a 2-1 lead until the top of the third, when Mexico erupted for five runs in the third. Barriga and Daniel Sierra each contributed two-run doubles while Macias’ RBI three-bagger chased Italian starter Giacomo Taschin. Italy kept battling and were within 9-7 until Mexico scored thrice in the top of the seventh (two on Barriga’s second double of the afternoon) to salt the contest away. Reliever Victor Landeros took the win while Anhuar Garcia held Italy scoreless on three hits over the final 2.2 innings to earn the save for Mexico, but it was a hitter’s day as both teams combined for 25 safeties over seven innings.
The Mexicans could have used some of that offensive output during their September 13 loss to defending U-18 champs Taiwan, 4-0. Lin Shao-En pitched a complete game one-hitter for the Formosans, needing only 85 pitches over seven innings. Manue Estrada averted the no-hit bid with a leadoff single on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the fifth but Lin was in control throughout., striking out eight batters and walking one. Mexico, who entered the tournament ranked fourth in the world, did not help their own cause by committing four errors in the field
It was back to Bradenton on September 14, when Mexico beat Panama, 8-7, in eight innings for their last win in Florida. After falling behind 2-0 in the top of the first, Mexico plated five runs on just two hits in the bottom of the frame. Macias stroked a leadoff double and scored on a Gutierrez single but the next four runs were scored without benefit of a hit, thanks in part to two walks and two hit batsmen. Panama fought back and tied the game with two seventh-inning runs, but with runners placed on first and second in the bottom of the eighth via WBSC tiebreaker rules, Macias’ single to right brought in Barriga from second for the walk-off win. Macias had his second straight four-hit game, scoring twice and driving in the game-winner, while Gutierrez had three hits, one run and a ribbie. The win gave Mexico a 3-2 first round record, edging out Panama for a Super Round berth.
After that, it was 3-and-out for Reyes’ charges, starting with a 7-4 loss to The Netherlands on September 15 in Bradenton. Mexico scored first in the top of the second when Barriga laid down a bunt to the mound, allowing Estrada to score from third. The Mexicans eventually built a 3-1 lead that disappeared in the fifth when Holland scored three runs, two coming in after a pair of errors on back-to-back bunts by Cano at third and Barriga at catcher, respectively. The Netherlands pushed three more scores across in the sixth and that was all she wrote. Romero had two of Mexico’s six hits (including a fifth-inning double down the left field line) but while the Mexicans put runners on base in every inning, eight were left stranded in a disappointing loss to a Dutch team ranked eighth in the world prior to the World Cup.
Mexico played for a sixth straight time in Bradenton on September 16, this time in a 7-5 loss to the host United States. Mexico scored twice in the top of the first, including a Romero RBI single to right that scored Macias from third, and held a narrow 3-2 lead until the floodgates opened in the bottom of the third. The Americans scored five times n three hits, two walks and an Estrada error at second. To their credit, Mexico came back with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth to make it a two-run game, thanks in part to an RBI single by Gutierrez, but that would be the last time either team scored. Mexico outhit the USA, 9-4, as Gutierrez and Cano each had two singles but five walks and three errors were hurtful, as were nine Mexican runners left on base.
The Mexicans finally returned to Sarasota on September 17 for their first game there since their World Cup opener, but their tourney appearance ended with a disappointing 6-4 loss to South Korea. Once again, Mexico had an early lead at 3-1 going into the bottom of the third after Cano doubled in Verdugo and Romero in the top of the frame, but the Koreans scored twice in the third to tie the game and then plated three more runs in the fourth to take a 5-3 lead they would never relinquish. Facing a 6-3 deficit in the top of the second, Gutierrez scored from third on a Macias groundout to short just before Romero flew out to left to end the game. Verdugo had three of Mexico’s five hits, including a pair of doubles, but South Korea was able to convert enough times on eight hits of their own plus seven walks and one Mexico error to put the game away.
Although the U-18 World Cup ended on a down note, there were bright spots in Mexico’s performance. Yael Romero was selected the All-World first baseman after hitting .476 with eight RBIs for the tournament, which was won by the USA, while Rosman Verdugo was the pick at shortstop by virtue of his .320 average with five RBIs and five runs scored over nine games. Antonis Macias (.448) and Carlos Gutierrez (.414) joined Romero in the 400 Club while combining for 25 of Mexico’s 62 hits in Florida as the team hit a collective .281. Pitching was not a strong point as the team posted a 5.28 ERA but Manuel Rodriguez did go 1-1 in two starts with seven strikeouts in 8.1 innings for a 2.52 ERA while reliever Anhuar Garcia looked good in two outings, earning a save and a team-best ERA of 1.50 over 4.2 frames.