Monday, October 22, 2018

MANNY HOMERS, CHARROS PULL INTO LMP CO-LEAD

After a forgettable two-season 2018 stint in the Mexican League with Monclova and Quintana Roo, Manny Rodriguez may be getting his groove back in Jalisco.

The perennial All-Star second baseman broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning with a solo homer off Los Mochis starter Chris Huffman as the Charros went on to beat the host Caneros, 4-2, Sunday night as 5,932 watched at Mochis' Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada.  Rodriguez had a rocky Spring season in the LMB, leaving the Acereros two weeks into the schedule and forcing a trade to the Tigres, where he played the rest of Spring and the entire Fall campaign.  While he had a power surge with 9 homers in 54 games but only hit .253 and .294 for the two seasons.  Although Rodriguez picked up the pace after landing with the Tigres, it was for all intent a lost summer for the 36-year-old Guasave native.  He's off to a good winterball start with the Charros, however, with a .333 batting average over his first eight games (including a sizzling .467 mark in four home contests).  Rodriguez' homer Sunday night was his second and he now has eight RBIs.  It's early yet, but perhaps Manny's spring of discontent in Monclova has faded from his rear-view mirror.

The win hoisted Jalisco into a three-way tie for the Mexican Pacific League's first-half lead with identical 5-3 records.  Co-leaders Mazatlan and Culiacan both lost Sunday night.  The Venados lost a 3-2 contest at Hermosillo as Bryce Brentz' RBI single gave the Naranjeros a win in walkoff fashion in the bottom of the tenth.  The Tomateros fell, 4-1 in Mexicali as C.J. Retherford singled, doubled and drove in two runs for the victorious Aguilas, who are now a half-game out of the lead in third with a 4-3 record.

Mazatlan's strong start can be attributed to their collective .315 batting average, an unusual trait for a Venados team that has traditionally relied on pitching to win.  Four of the LMP's top seven batters are in the Mazatlan lineup.  While Navojoa's Alonzo Harris tops the list at .472 (Harris' five steals ties Mexicali's Juan Perez for most), the Venados have four hitters inside the Top Ten: Azael Sanchez at .458 (2nd), Anthony Giansanti and Brian Hernandez at .423 (tied for 4th) and Sherman Johnson at an even .400 (7th).  The aforementioned Manny Rodriguez is tied with seven other batsmen for the lead in homers with his two longballs while his eight ribbies are tops in that category as well. 

Although Mazatlan has maintained their strong pitching tradition with a team ERA of 2.59, that figure only ranks fourth among the MexPac's eight teams.  Mexicali and Navojoa are tied with a stingy 2.16 while Culiacan is third at 2.56.  The LMP has long been a pitcher's league, a contrast with summer's hitter-friendly Mexican League, but the hurlers are ahead the hitters more than usual.  Obregon reliever Jesus Anguamea has won twice in four outing to be the only 2-0 man in the league.  Mazatlan's Jose Hernandez has yet to allow a run in 12 innings over two starts (he's 1-0) and Mexicali veteran Javier Solano's 15 strikeouts in 11.2 frames tops that list.  Evan Marshall of Mazatlan is tied with Jalisco's Grant Sides with three saves apiece.  Marshall has not been scored upon in four appearances, giving up two hits and no walks in four innings.


MEXICO WINS 2 OF FIRST 3 GAMES AT U-23 WORLD CUP IN COLOMBIA

A Mexico team consisting of many of the country's top young ballplayers has won two of its first three games at the WBSC's Under-23 World Cup tournament in Barranquilla, Colombia.  Twelve national teams are entered in the competition, with Mexico in the six-team Group A along with host Colombia, Japan, Taiwan, South Africa and The Netherlands.  Group B consists of Australia, South Korea, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and both the Czech and Dominican Republics.

Mexico snuck past Taiwan, 2-1, last Friday in the World Cup opener.  Alan Garcia's two-run single scored Roberto Valenzuela and Julian Ornelas in the bottom of the first inning.  Garcia played outfield three years in the Padres system before debuting for Puebla in the Mexican League fall season, batting .259 in 25 games. That ended up being all the offensive support that starting pitcher Luis Rodriguez and four relievers would need.  Rodriguez, who went 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 21 relief appearances for Quintana Roo this fall, gave up one run on five hits in as many innings to earn the win.  Erick Casillas (Oaxaca) worked a scoreless ninth for the save.

Manager Enrique "Che" Reyes' squad made it two straight Saturday by pounding The Netherlands, 14-7.  The Mexicans scored at least one run in every inning but the second and third as they outhit the Dutchmen by a 16-to-12 margin.  Outfielder Fabricio Macias, who played in the Pirates system this year after two seasons in Saltillo, had three hits (including a homer), three runs and three RBIs for the winners while Bernardo Heras (Puebla) had three hits, scored twice and drove in a run.  Starter Francisco Haro (Campeche) gave up three runs in five innings, but he struck out nine Dutch batters and pitched well enough to win.

Things fell back to Earth on Sunday as Japan knocked Mexico out of the unbeaten ranks by a 7-2 count.  The Japanese got off to a 4-0 lead before Heras put the Verdes Grande on the scoreboard with a solo homer in the top of the fourth, but the only other Mexican run came two frames later when Daniel Mercado (Union Laguna) singled in Roberto Valenzuela from third.  Marco Jaime (Leon) had two of Mexico's six hits while pinch-hitter Walter Higuera (Yucatan) added a seventh-inning double, but this one was Japan's to lose early.  Saul Castellanos (Saltillo) was bombed for five runs on seven hits in ust 3.2 innings to absorb the loss.

As might be expected, World Cup games not involving host Colombia have not been witnessed by large crowds at Barranquilla's Estadio Edgar Renteria.  Only 62 hardy souls attended Mexico's Friday tournament opener against Taiwan.  Although a reported 500 showed up for Saturday's Mexico-Netherlands game, only 250 wandered in for Sunday's Mexico-Japan encounter.  Conversely, crowds of 3,500 came out for each of Colombia's first two games (their Sunday night tilt with South Africa was halted by rain in the second inning).

First round round-robin play is scheduled to conclude Tuesday, weather permitting, with a three-day "super round" commencing Wednesday prior to Saturday's Bronze and Gold medal games.


MENESES LEAVES TOMATEROS, MAY PLAY IN JAPAN NEXT YEAR
Culiacan 1B Joey Meneses: Off to Osaka?
After not getting a callup to parent club Philadelphia despite winning the AAA International League's Most Valuable Player award, Joey Meneses is hoping for a fair shot in Japan next year.  The Culiacan native has reportedly been negotiating with a Nippon Professional Baseball team and has not played for his hometown Tomateros since homering and driving in three runs in a 6-1 Mexican Pacific League win over Los Mochis last Wednesday.

The 26-year-old Meneses was signed by the Phillies as a free agent last winter after seven seasons in the Atlanta system, including MiLB.com Organization All-Star selections in 2014 and 2017.  He'd batted .282 with a career-high 9 homers for the Braves' Mississippi affiliate in the AA Southern League, playing in that loop's All-Star Game in 2017, a good year but not good enough to keep his job.  The Phils signed him to a minor league deal and assigned him to their IL farm club in Lehigh Valley, where he proceeded to hit .311 while leading the circuit in homers (23), RBIs (82), and OPS (.870) while tying with Columbus' Brandon Barnes for most runs scored (75).  The IL named the 26-year-old both MVP and Rookie of the Year for 2018 for his efforts while unsurprisingly placing the first baseman on their postseason All-Star squad.  Lehigh Valley won the Northern Division title with a league-best 84-56 record before falling to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in four games in the first round of the playoffs.

Meneses was never brought up to Philadelphia despite his breakout campaign for the Iron Pigs, even after MLB rosters were expanded to 40 players on September 1.  The 6'3" 220-pounder was on a one-year deal with the Phillies, making him a free agent going into this offseason.  He has reportedly been in contract talks to play for the Orix Buffaloes, who were formed by a 2005 merger between the Pacific League's Orix Blue Wave and Kintetsu Buffaloes.  The Buffaloes finished fourth in the PL with a 62-69 record.  Japanese teams are allowed four foreigners on their 25-man rosters (there are no limits to gaijin in NPB's minor leagues) and while pitchers Andrew Albers (9-2/3.08) and Brandon Dickson (4-6, 3.55) plus outfielder Stefen Romero (.235/23/62) probably played well enough to be brought back in 2019, Chris Marrero (.201/11/26) dropped off noticeably since a good 2017 debut in Osaka and the ex-Nats and Giants first sacker may be considered expendable.

Meneses was batting .417 with a homer and 6 RBIs over four games when he made his last appearance for the defending MexPac champion Tomateros, managed this year by Lorenzo Bundy.  Meneses hit .248 with 6 homers for Culiacan in 66 games last winter.

Monday, October 15, 2018

SULTANES WIN LIGA FALL PENNANT; LMP SEASON OPENS

Sultanes 3B Agustin Murillo hoists the LMB title trophy
Ramiro Pena's walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth inning drove in Chris Roberson with the final run of the Fall 2018 season as Monterrey defeated Oaxaca, 3-2, last Tuesday in Game Six of the Mexican League's Serie del Rey.  The win clinched the Sultanes' eighth LMB pennant and Monterrey's tenth Liga flag overall since the northern city entered the circuit in 1939 (the former Industriales team won titles in 1943 and 1947).

Oaxaca took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Alejandro Gonzalez' two-out single to right off Monterrey starter Anthony Vasquez brought in Game Five hero Samar Leyva from second to give the underdog Guerreros the early advantage.  Sultanes rightfielder Sebastian Elizalde's throw to the plate allowed Gonzalez to scamper to second base while Alan Sanchez moved 90 feet to third, but Vasquez got Erick Rodriguez to ground out to Pena at shortstop, ending the threat.

Monterrey came back two innings later with a run to even the score at 1-1.  Agustin Murillo, who had a splendid series, opened the bottom of the fourth by lining a double to left off Oaxaca starter Ruddy Acosta.  Murillo was able to go from first to third during a Felix Perez groundout to Guerreros first sacker Henry Urrutia, then plated the Sultanes' first score on a Roberson single.  The Oakland native was able to advance to third on a Ramon Rios single, but died 90 feet from paydirt when Elizalde lofted a fly ball to Gonzalez in right to end the entrada.

The two teams remained deadlocked until the top of the eighth.  Gonzalez led off by singling to left against Monterrey reliever Ozzie Mendez, moved to second on a Rodriguez sacrifice and took third on Jay Austin's groundout to Rios at second before Vasquez uncorked a wild pitch to Julian Ornelas, allowing Gonzalez to streak in with the Guerreros' go-ahead run.  The Sultanes came back in the bottom of the eighth to knot the game back up at 2-2 when Murillo's sacrifice fly to Ornelas in left brought in pinch-runner Marco Guzman (son of longtime LMB catcher and manager Marco Antonio Guzman) from third.  Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo then came in to retire the Oaxacans without a score in top of the ninth, setting up the Sultanes' pennant-winning heroics.

Roberson started things off by doubling an 0-1 Samuel Zazueta pitch to right, then skipped over to third when Rios laid down a bunt in front of home plate that Zazueta could only throw to Urrutia at first for the out.  Monterrey manager Roberto Kelly brought in Yadir Drake as a pinch-hitter for Elizalde, but Zazueta intentionally walked the 2017 LMB batting champion to put Sultanes runners at the corners.  That was a temporary situation, as pinch-runner Leo German (in for Drake) stole second whil Zazueta was working on the next batter, Arturo Rodriguez.  At that point, Rodriguez was intentionally walked to load the bases with Julio Borbon coming up.  Zazueta struck out Borbon swinging on four pitches for the second out, but Pena grounded the first pitch he saw up the middle to score Roberson from third, ending the game and season to the delight of an Estadio Monterrey sellout crowd of 21,909.

Obispo was awarded his second win of the Serie del Rey for his one inning of work, but Vasquez (who allowed five Oaxaca runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings in Game Two) gave the winners eight solid frames of pitching, letting in two runs and scattering five hits while walking one.  Zazueta absorbed the loss after allowing the winning run on three hits and two walks, also in one frame.  The 21-year-old Obregon product pitched in every game of the finals for manager Sergio Gastelum's Guerreros and generally did well before wilting in Game Six.  Guerreros starter Acosta acquitted himself well, giving up one run and scattering four hits in 5.1 innings before being replaced by Mendez.

Murillo was named the Serie del Rey MVP after helping the Sultanes win their first pennant since 2007.  While the Tijuana-born third baseman's finals numbers of a .308 batting average with two homers and five RBIs are hardly off-the-charts, Guty's two-run game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game Two was a shocking blow the Guerreros never really recovered from while his Game Three performance (3-for-4, HR, 2B, 2 RBIs) was key in giving the Sultanes a series lead they never relinquished.


MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE OPENS 2018-19 CAMPAIGN

Mexicali P Javier Solano was dominant Friday
When Culiacan pitcher James Russell threw a pitch to Navojoa centerfielder Alonzo Harris at 8:10 last Friday night it marked the opening of the Mexican Pacific League's 2018-19 regular season.  Let the record show it was a ball, as Russell fell behind in the count 3-0 before eventually getting Harris to pop out to Tomateros third baseman Ronnier Mustelier in foul territory for the first OUT of the season.

Navojoa went on to beat defending champion Culiacan, 8-2, as a crowd of 19,210 jammed Estadio Tomateros.  The Mayos knocked Russell, who spent seven years in the majors for the Cubs and Phillies between 2010 and 2016, for six runs on seven hits over 4.1 innings.  The 32-year-old served up a two-run homer to Fernando Flores in the second and a solo blast to Harris (an ex-Mets farmhand) in the third as the Mayos outhit the Tomateros by a 13-7 margin, with four Navojoa players collecting two hits each

In Friday's other opener, Mexicali shut out Hermosillo, 3-0, as former MexPac pitching champion Javier Solano blanked the Naranjeros over six innings, giving up two hits, striking out 12 and walking none.  It was a vintage performance for Solano, who turned in a 10-6 record in the LMB last summer for Monterrey and Quintana Roo but had an ERA of 5.31 ERA over the two seasons.

Two more openers were played Saturday.  Visiting Mazatlan overcame a two-run sixth inning deficit to pull past Jalisco, 5-4.  The game lasted until a minute before midnight as a combined 15 pitchers took the mound for both teams.  Former Cubs prospect Anthony Giansanti went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs for manager Joe Alvarez' Venados and newcomer Quincy Latimore, who was dealt to the Deer by Navojoa in the offseason, also had three hits and scored twice.

Obregon got strong outings from starter Nate Reed (5 IP, 1 R, 2 H) and four relievers to earn a 4-1 road win at Los Mochis Saturday.  The Yaquis got a three-hit night from John Nogowski but it was a two-run single by number 9 batter Juan Carlos Gamboa that keyed a four-run Obregon fourth inning to in essence put the game away for the visitors.

Four more openers in the MexPac's traditional two-game, home-and-away series were played Sunday.  Mexicali went to 2-0 on the season with an 8-3 win at Hermosillo as Ricardo Serrano highlighted a four-run Aguilas second by slamming a three-run homer off Scott Copeland.  Mazatlan is likewise 2-0 after blanking Jalisco, 1-0, on a one-hitter spun by Venados starter Jose Hernandez and five relievers.  Visiting Culiacan topped the Navojoa Mayos, 2-1, as International League MVP and Triple Crown winner Joey Meneses singled in Dylan Moore with the tiebreaking run in the top of the ninth.  A Ramon Urias RBI single in the top of the eleventh brought in the go-ahead score as Los Mochis went on to an 8-6 triumph in Obregon.

In all, 120,705 fans attended the eight openers, an average of 15,088 per game as all contests sold out.  Ballpark renovations have not been completed in either Mazatlan or Los Mochis, but both projects are expected to be completed in time for the January playoffs.  In the offseason, the LMP expanded the limit of foreign players from eight to 14 per team in response to the Mexican League's expanded schedule.  While roster churn is an accepted fact of life in the circuit, the first half is expected to be more active than usual as domestic players who've been performing in the LMB playoffs will become available over the next few weeks.


 PITCHER ORTEGA RETIRES, WILL COACH IN OBREGON

Tigres P Pablo Ortega after his 2011 no-hitter
Pablo Ortega earned a living as a pitcher for nearly two decades by baffling opposing batsmen in both the Mexican and Mexican Pacific Leagues until he finally found someone he couldn't beat forever: Padre Tiempo (or Father Time).

Ortega, who turns 42 on November 7, has announced his retirement as a player after a forgettable Fall 2018 season with the Quintana Roo Tigres in which he went 1-5 with a 9.55 ERA in ten starts.  He'd had a respectable Spring campaign with the Tigres, going 3-2 with a 3.18 ERA in eight outings, including a May 10 complete game 5-0 shutout over Leon in Cancun, scattering five singles and throwing 63 strikes in the 93-pitch performance.  However, the wheels gradually fell off Ortega's wagon in the second season, one that saw the Tigres miss the postseason for the first time in years.  His final outing was an August 29 start against defending champion Yucatan in Merida, where he lasted 3.1 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits before QR manager Raul Sanchez replaced him with Luis Ivan Rodriguez, who'd just turned 22 and hadn't even been born when El Maestro began his career.

The Nuevo Laredo made his Mexican League debut in 1995 with his hometown Dos Laredos Tecolotes as an 18-year-old.  Ortega didn't set the Liga on fire over his five appearances (two starts) that year, going 0-1 with a 5.93 ERA, but he showed enough to earn a contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who had not yet fielded a team at the Major League level.  The 6'2" righthander spent four years in the Rays system and turned in a 30-38 record, pitching once for AAA Durham in 1999 before returning south of the border the following year.

That was when his legacy as a Mexican baseball pitcher began as he was 11-3 for the Mexico City Tigres and was the championship series MVP for the 2000 LMB pennant winners, the first of six Liga titles Ortega would win (all for the Tigres).  Although he would spend all or part of 2002 and 2003 with the Puebla Pericos, Ortega would become a mainstay in the Tigres rotation during his career.  He reached double figures in wins nine times and was selected to at least six All-Star Games.  He was named the LMB Pitcher of the Year in 2003 and Comeback Player of the Year in 2011, a year in which he was 10-3 (including a no-hitter against Veracruz) for the Tigres after going 2-6 with an 8.24 ERA the previous summer.  For his Mexican League career, Ortega was 164-107 and he turned in a 4.34 ERA, a respectable figure for a hitter's league like the LMB.  He had 1,174 strikeouts in 2,191 innings pitched.

El Maestro didn't limit his skills to the Liga.  He spent 17 winters pitching in the Mexican Pacific League, pitching for three title teams, and also appeared in the Caribbean Series (winning the 2005 CS with Mazatlan) and was on the Mexican National Team for several international tournaments, including the World Baseball Classic, Olympic Games qualifiers, Pan American Games, Central American and Caribbean Games and Americas Cup competitions.

While Ortega was in training camp with the MexPac's Obregon Yaquis when he announced his retirement, he won't be stepping away from the game.  He'll stay on with the Yaquis this winter as a bullpen coach under new manager Oscar Robles, who faced Ortega as a batter several times over the years as a player in Mexico City Oaxaca and Tijuana.

Monday, October 8, 2018

OAXACA TOPS SULTANES, STAY ALIVE IN SERIE DEL REY


Oaxaca's Samar Leyva stroked a bases-loaded pitch from Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo into the left field corner to bring in Yuniesky Betancourt with the winning run as the Guerreros topped the Sultanes, 6-5, in ten innings Sunday night at Oaxaca's Parque Eduardo Vasconcelos.  The win ended Monterrey's three-game Serie del Rey win streak and brought the Warriors to within a game of the Sultanes, who lead the Mexican League championship series, 3 games to 2.

Game Six is set for Tuesday night in Monterrey.


GAME 1 - Tuesday, October 2
Oaxaca 4-11-0, MONTERREY 1-3-1
W-A. Delgado. L-E. Gonzalez.
Oaxaca pitcher Alex Delgado
Alex Delgado mastered the Sultanes in the opener at Estadio Monterrey, blanking the hosts on two singles before exiting after 93 pitches with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning.  Ex-Yankee Ramiro Pena did double off Samuel Zazueta in the eighth to score Ramon Rios and put the Sultanes on the board, but Oaxaca had been protecting a 4-0 lead since the second inning and a 1-2-3 ninth sealed the opening win on the road for manager Sergio Gastelum's club.

Yuniesky Betancourt doubled twice, drove in three runs and scored another to have a hand in every Oaxaca score but the story was Delgado, who battled out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the third when he induced Pena to pop out to Leyva at short and struck out Agustin Murillo to end the threat.  The 23-year-old Mexicali-born lefty struck out nine and walked two. Former Arizona starter Edgar Gonzalez took the loss for Monterrey in front of 21,909 at home.


GAME 2 - Wednesday, October 3
MONTERREY 7-9-0, Oaxaca 6-12-1.  
W-W. Obispo. L-C. Felix.
Monterrey third baseman Agustin Murillo
Murillo got revenge for his inning-ending whiff the night before in a huge way by drilling a two-run, two-out homer to left off Carlos Felix in the bottom of the ninth to erase a 6-4 Oaxaca lead and what looked like a sure Guerreros win. Two-time 2018 homer champion Felix Perez then launched a Felix pitch into the seats in right center to cap the stunning walkoff win and give the Sultanes a 1-1 split of the first leg of the Serie del Rey before another sellout crowd of 21,909 at Estadio Monterrey.

Perez ended the night with three hits and three runs for the winners, who touched Oaxaca starter Irwin Delgado (Alex' cousin) for four runs on six hits and three walks over the first six frames.  The Guerreros chased Monterrey starter Anthony Vasquez after 2.2 frames by plating five runs on seven hits as Oaxaca outhit the Sultanes, 12 to 6. Alan Sanchez had three safeties for the visitors, driving in three runs.  Wirfin Obispo pitched a scoreless ninth for the win while Felix was tagged with the loss.

GAME 3 - Friday, October 5
Monterrey 5-10-1, OAXACA 1-6-0  
W-J. DePaula. L-R. Acosta.
Monterrey pitcher Jose De Paula
Murillo's revenge carried past last Thursday's travel day and into Game Three in Oaxaca.  The veteran third sacker went 3-for-4 and homering off Erick Casillas in the top of the eighth to cap a night in which he also drove in Ramiro Pena with a second-inning single.  Pena, Julio Borbon and Felix Perez combined for another six hits, four runs and a ribbie for manager Roberto Kelly's Sultanes, who pulled into a 2-games-to-1 series lead in front of 7,000 onlookers in the Parque Eduardo Vasconcelos stands.

Former Yankees prospect Jose De Paula, who had only pitched winterball in his home Dominican Republic since 2015 before hooking on with Monterrey this year, tossed six shutout innings for the Sultanes.  He scattered five hits and a walk while striking out six. Ruddy Acosta absorbed the loss for Oaxaca, getting roughed up for three runs on four hits and three walks over 1.2 innings. The Guerreros got a single and double from Samar Leyva in the defeat.


GAME 4 - Saturday, October 6
Monterrey 3-9-0, OAXACA 2-8-2
W-D. Martinez. L-J.C. Medina.
Monterrey second baseman Ramon Rios
The Sultanes scored three runs in the top of the second, then had to hang on late for a 3-2 win in Oaxaca with 7,150 in attendance.  Jose Amador led off the second with a double off Guerreros starter Jose Carlos Medina, who then gave up consecutive singles to Chris Roberson, Ramon Rios (scoring Amador from third) and Sebastian Elizalde to bring in Roberson.  After an Ali Solis flyout, Julio Borbon's single plated Rios to give the Sultanes a 3-0 lead they carried into the seventh.

That's when Oaxaca fought back with two runs off reliever Felipe Gonzalez, who gave up an RBI triple to Samar Leyva before his pitch to Alejandro Gonzalez eluded catcher Solis, allowing Leyva to score but that's as close as it got.  Sultanes starter Dallas Martinez, another former Yanks farmhand, earned the win with six shutout innings while Medina was charged with the defeat. Amador had two hits for Monterrey while Julian Ornelas singled twice for the Guerreros.


GAME 5 - Sunday, October 7
OAXACA 6-13-1, Monterrey 5-16-1  
W-S. Zazueta. L-W. Obispo.
Oaxaca shortstop Samar Leyva
The Sultanes broke a 1-1 tie by scoring twice in the top of the fourth on a Ramon Rios double and Ali Solis, both with two out, and plating two more runs in the fifth on Ramiro Pena's leadoff homer against Alex Delgado and a Julian Ornelas RBI double to give Monterrey a 5-1 bulge.  With starter Marco Tovar having retired 10 of the last 11 Guerreros batsmen he'd faced since the first, the Sultanes appeared poised to win Monterrey's tenth LMB pennant before a full house of 7,230 hostile Oaxacan witnesses.

Instead, the Guerreros roared back to chase Tovar and tie the game with four runs in the bottom of the fifth.  Julian Ornelas doubled in one run and later scored the tying tally on Henry Urrutia's groundout. The two teams then traded zeros into the bottom of the tenth, when Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo allowed a Yuniesky Betancourt single and walked both Dustin Geiger and Alan Sanchez to load the bases, allowing Samar Leyva's liner to left to bring Betancourt in with the walkoff run.  Obispo was handed the defeat while Guerreros middleman Samuel Zazueta got credit for the win.

Monday, October 1, 2018

IT'S MONTERREY, OAXACA IN FALL SERIE DEL REY

The Oaxaca Guerreros continued their unlikely postseason surge by defeating the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, 8-4, Sunday in the nation's capital to clinch the Mexican League's South Division Championship Series, 4 games to 2.  The Guerreros move on to the Serie del Rey title set against the Monterrey Sultanes, starting Tuesday night at Estadio Monterrey.

Oaxaca barely qualified for the Fall 2018 postseason after finishing fifth in the LMB South with a 26-30 record, one game behind 26-28 Leon.  That margin was close enough to force a single play-in against the Bravos in Leon.  The Guerreros won that contest and went on to eliminate defending Liga champion Yucatan in seven games in the opening round to set up the division title series with sister club Mexico City (both teams are owned by billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu).  After knocking the Diablos out, the Guerreros will now seek their second LMB pennant, the first coming 20 years ago under manager Nelson Barrera in the team's third season in the Liga since Harp led a group of investors in purchasing the Jalisco Charros following the 1995 season and moving the franchise to Oaxaca.  The Warriors have not won a division title since until now.  Manager Sergio Gastelum took the reins from former skipper Joe Alvarez in the middle of the fall campaign and while the team continued to struggle the rest of the regular season, Gastelum has them playing well at the right time.

The Guerreros will face a Monterrey team that reached the Serie del Rey in the Spring season, losing to Yucatan to fall short of winning the Sultanes' tenth pennant.  Monterrey finished the regular season with a 34-23 record, good enough for third place in the LMB North under first-year manager Roberto Kelly, who turned 50 on October 1.  Like Oaxaca, the Sultanes were stretched to a seventh game in the first round before defeating rival Tijuana to move on to the division championships against Monclova.  Monterrey had an easier time of it against the first-place Acereros, who had the Liga's best regular-season record with a 42-14 mark to win the top seed by seven games over second-place Tijuana (35-21).  The Sultanes knocked off Monclova in five games to reach the Serie del Rey for the second time in the calendar year, a record that will stand for some time to come now that the LMB is abandoning its two-season format in 2019 after one year.

Monterrey swept Oaxaca in three games at home in July (the only time the two teams have met in either 2018 season) and is likely favored to win their first pennant since 2007, but anything can happen in a seven-game series and Oaxaca has defeated two good teams to reach this point.

FALL 2018 SERIE DEL REY SCHEDULE
Game 1:  Tuesday, October 2 (8:30pm ET) - Oaxaca at Monterrey
Game 2:  Wednesday, October 3 (8:30pm ET) - Oaxaca at Monterrey
Game 3:  Friday, October 5 (8:30pm ET) - Monterrey at Oaxaca
Game 4:  Saturday, October 6 (8:30pm ET) - Monterrey at Oaxaca
Game 5:  Sunday, October 7 (5:00pm ET) - Monterrey at Oaxaca*
Game 6:  Tuesday, October 9 (8:30pm ET) - Oaxaca at Monterrey*
Game 7:  Wednesday, October 10 (8:30pm ET) - Oaxaca at Monterrey*
*-if necessary


GUERREROS, ORNELAS KNOCK OUT DIABLOS WITH 8-4 WIN


Oaxaca Guerreros celebrating LMB South title
The Oaxaca Guerreros overcame a midgame 3-1 deficit by scoring a combined seven runs in the sixth and seventh innings to defeat the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, 8-4, Saturday night in front of an overflow crowd of 6,400 at Estadio Fray Nano in Mexico City.  The win gave the Warriors a 4-games-to-2 win in the LMB South championship to punch their ticket to the Serie del Rey against Monterrey.

The Diablos drew first blood with three runs in the bottom of the first inning.  Juan Carlos Gamboa lined a single up the middle off the glove of Oaxaca starting pitcher Irwin Delgado to plate speedster Carlos Figueroa from second with the game's first run.  David Vidal singled Gamboa to second and both runners crossed the plate on a Luis Jimenez triple to put Delgado and the Guerreros in an early hole.  Henry Urrutia got one run back for the visitors by belting a leadoff homer in the top of the second but Mexico City's 3-1 advantage held until the sixth, when the Guerreros pasted Diablos starter Patrick Johnson and three relievers for four runs on as many hits.  The key blows were back-to-back doubles by Dustin Geiger and Julian Ornelas, the latter a liner to center that drove in Yuniesky Betancourt and Geiger with the go-ahead tallies.

Mexico City came back with a run in the bottom of the sixth Gamboa singled to right off reliever Samuel Zazueta to bring Jesus Fabela motoring in from second to cut Oaxaca's advantage to one run, but that was as close as the Diablos would get the rest of the game.  The Guerreros scored three more times in the top of the seventh as Ornelas contributed a two-run single off David Reyes to bring the score to 8-4.  From that point, relievers Erick Casillas, Rodolfo Aguilar and Carlos Felix blanked to hosts over the final three entradas to seal the win for the Guerreros, with Felix inducing pinch-hitter Ivan Terrazas to ground out to Betancourt at second to end the series in the bottom of the ninth.  Ornelas went 3-for-3 for Oaxaca with four RBIs as reliever Ozzie Mendez got the win.  Johnson absorbed the defeat for the Diablos.

The series was tied at a game apiece before Oaxaca topped Mexico City, 10-3, last Tuesday behind Jay Austin's double and triple with two runs scored and two more driven in.  The Diablos came back Wednesday with a 9-4 win at Oaxaca to tie the series back up as Vidal broke the game up with a bases-loaded triple in the top of the sixth to give the visitors an 8-3 lead.  Vidal was thrown out at the plate trying to complete a rare inside-the-park grand slam by Guerreros rightfielder Alan Sanchez but the damage was already done.  One night later, Oaxaca took the series lead with a 2-1 victory behind the four-hit pitching of starter Jose Medina (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R) and three relievers.  Attendance has been traditionally moribund at Guerreros home games but a combined 18,000+ fans clicked the turnstiles at Parque Eduardo Vasconcelos at the three games in Oaxaca before the series shifted to Mexico City for Saturday's fateful Game Six.

And now the Guerreros, led by manager Sergio Gastelum, who had never managed an LMB team prior to August 7, are four wins away from hoisting their second pennant in 23 years (and first since 1998).  Gastelum had been managing Ensenada in the Northern Mexico League when he was brought in to replaced the fired Joe Alvarez on August 7 and went 12-14 with Oaxaca the rest of the regular season. The postseason has thus far gone a trifle better for Gastelum and the Guerreros.


SULTANES BREEZE PAST MONCLOVA, SEEK TENTH LIGA FLAG

Monterrey Sultanes RF Yadir Drake
Monterrey had a surprisingly easy time of it against Monclova after surviving a seven-game first-round battle with Tijuana to reach the LMN North Championship Series.  The Acereros had dominated the Fall season with a Liga-best 42-12 record (including a 4-2 mark against the Sultanes) and were a favorite to win their city's first-ever pennant heading into the playoffs and did nothing to dispel that by eliminating Dos Laredos, 4 games to 1, in the opening round.

However, the Sultanes were able to exploit Monclova's lack of pitching depth to rack up 32 runs over the final four contests of the LMB North championship series to pull away with a 4-games-to-1 win over the Acereros and vault into the Serie del Rey against Oaxaca.  The set opened with a relatively normal 4-3 Monterrey win on September 20 in Monclova before the Sultanes bats heated up with a 7-3 triumph at Estadio Monclova on September 21.  After the series moved to Monterrey, the Sultanes made it a 3-games-to-0 advantage September 23 and while the Acereros bounced back last Monday with a 9-8 win in Game Four (thanks in no small part to a seven-run fifth inning highlighted by a Juan Perez grand slam and a solo blast Jesus Arredondo), it seemed only a matter of time until Monterrey eliminated the top seed to move on to the Serie del Ray while endangering Monclova manager Pedro Mere's job with volatile owner Gerardo Benvides' Acereros in the bargain.

That shoe finally fell last Tuesday, with the Sultanes delivering the coup de grace to Monclova's season with a 9-5 win at Estadio Monterrey with 18,202 onlookers in the stands.  This time the big inning belonged to the Sultanes, who were trailing 5-3 before plating five runs in the bottom of the seventh.  Yadir Drake's two-run homer keyed the outburst as Mere sent four pitchers to the mound that inning as Monterrey put six hits on the board.  Besides Drake's bomb, Felix Perez had a run-scoring double, Chris Roberson drove in a run with a single before coming in on Drake's longball and Ramon Rios doubled before scoring on an Ali Solis single as all nine batters in the Sultanes' order came to the plate.  Perez launched a solo homer off yet another Monclova reliever, veteran Mauricio Lara, in the eighth to put the game and series out of reach for the visitors.  Lara was the eighth hurler used by Mere in the contest, with the loss going to Arturo Barradas, who served up Drake's homer.  The win went to Sultanes reliever Nick Struck, who gave up two runs in two frames but had the good fortune of being on the hill for Monterrey before the Sultanes went on their five-run tear in the seventh.  Roberson and Agustin Murillo each had three of Monterrey's 15 hits on the night as the Sultanes batted .320 for the series.

And now the Sultanes move on in search of the franchise's sixth title since 1962 and Monterrey's tenth Mexican League pennant since 1943 (the first four won by the old Industriales under manager Lazaro Salazar, including three in a row between 1947 and 1949).