Thursday, September 29, 2016

2016 BBM Summer Awards Playoff MVP: Mauricio Lara, Puebla

The Mexican League presented their Playoff MVP award to Puebla pitcher Travis Blackley immediately after the Aussie MLB alum tossed eight innings of two-hit shutout ball in the Pericos' pennant-clinching 2-0 win at Tijuana on September 14.   However, a different conclusion has been reached for BBM's Summer Playoff MVP.

Blackley did indeed literally save his best for last, but was also touched by the Toros for three runs in 5.2 innings in his previous Serie del Rey start and the 33-year-old made just three starts over the three-round postseason, missing the opening series against defending champion Quintana Roo altogether.

A case could be just as easily made for Pericos closer Chaud Gaudin, another former big leaguer.  Following a regular season in which he saved 33 games (second in the LMB to Monclova's Arcenio Leon's 36) with a microscopic 1.64 ERA over 44 games, Gaudin won one game and saved seven more in the playoffs for the Parrots, three in the title series against Tijuana.  Gaudin had a couple rocky postseason outings that drove his playoff ERA up to 2.53 (still a very good number), making him anything but automatic.  After analyzing the numbers for all players who made significant postseason contributions during Puebla's pennant run, BBM goes with lefty starter Mauricio Lara.

Like Blackley, Lara posted three playoff wins for Puebla.  His only blemish in four starts was a no-decision after pitching seven strong innings in the Division Championship Series against Yucatan on September 4, a game that went 13 innings until the Leones pulled out a 4-3 win.  Lara won one game in each of the Pericos' three series, allowing just four earned runs over 27.1 frames for a sparkling 1.33 earned-run average.  While he wasn't as dominant as Blackley when the latter was on his game, Lara was rock-steady every time he took the mound en route to a playoff WHIP of 1.15 and gave his teammates a chance to win all four outings.  His final start of the year came September 10 in the Serie del Rey when he let in just one run over eight frames as the Pericos held on to win Game Three, 8-5, to take a 2 games to 1 lead in the set.

Mauricio Lara was born April 2, 1979 in Hermosillo, Sonora.  He was signed by the Boston Red Sox as an undrafted free agent at age 20 in early 2000 and assigned to Class A Augusta of the South Atlantic League, where he went 1-0 with a 1.41 ERA in 16 relief appearances before being shifted to Lowell of the Short Season Class A New York-Penn League and used as a starter (4-3, 2.12 ERA in 14 starts). He spent the entire 2001 campaign back in Augusta, where he was 7-6 and 3.02 over 107.1 innings, striking out 96 and showing good control for a lefty by walking just 24.  Lara put in one more year in the Sox system in 2002, turning in a 4-2 mark and a 4.35 ERA over 23 appearances, 19 from the bullpen, in his last season playing ball in the USA.

He made his Mexican League debut with Monterrey in 2003 as a reliever, going 1-0 with a 4.58 ERA for the Sultanes in 26 outings in which he only toiled 19.2 innings.  After missing the 2004 season for unknown reasons, Lara spent four more years in Monterrey togs with mixed results.  He was unsuccessful as a reliever in 2005 and 2006 (going 1-2 and 5.77 combined) but showed better after being converted into a starter in 2007.  He was 15-8 over two years for the Sultanes in that role, turning in a 3.68 ERA through 2008.

The 5'11" 194-pound portsider found himself in Quintana Roo for the 2009 season, going 3-6/6.19 in 11 starts for the Tigres before being traded to Puebla that June. He's been a mainstay in the Pericos' starting rotation ever since.  Lara posted a so-so 37-34 record between 2011 and 2015 with a 5.02 in that timespan, but hit his stride this summer.  He went 13-3 for the Pericos with a 3.14 ERA to finished tied with Monclovas Josh Lowey for second in the LMB in wins behind the 18 of Yucatan's Yoanner Negrin.

While pitching almost exclusively for just two Mexican League teams since 2004, Lara has been constantly on the move during the winter in the Mexican Pacific League. Over the past ten LMP seasons, he's pitched for (in order) Navojoa, Obregon, Guasave, Los Mochis, Mazatlan and Mexicali, going 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA in 29 relief appearances for the Aguilas last winter.  Still, Lara has enough cache in the MexPac that he was the first overall selection by Culiacan in June's annual LMP draft of domestic players.  The Tomateros will host the 2017 Caribbean Series at their year-old ballpark in February.  The LMP regular season opens October 11.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2016 BBM Summer Awards Pitcher of the Year: Yoanner Negrin, Yucatan

The Yucatan Leones posted the best record in the Mexican League this summer with a 77-33 mark (winning 35 of 52 road games) before advancing to the LMB South Division Championship Series against eventual champions Puebla.  While BBM Manager of the Year Willie Romero had some timely hitters like in his everyday lineup like Jesus Valdez, Luis Alfonso Garcia and Corey Wimberly, the Leones were clearly a pitching-dependent team in 2016.  And no pitcher in the Liga was more dependable than starter Yoanner Negrin.

The 32-year-old Cuban righty registered one of the best campaigns for pitchers in recent memory, winning 18 of 19 regular season contests.  His lone loss came May 1 against Puebla at home in Merida, a 5-4 defeat in which Negrin allowed five runs on 10 hits and three walks over 5.1 innings.  Otherwise, he was as automatic as the sunrise, winning all but three no-decisions for his 21 other starts.  Negrin's 18 wins were the most since Danny Rios went 18-5 for Union Laguna in 2001 (throwing an incredible 19 complete games among his 26 starts that year).

Negrin ended the schedule with 141.1 innings pitched, striking out 92 batsmen (tied for ninth in the LMB) and walking 37.  He tossed four complete games, three of them shutouts (both league highs), and his 1.07 WHIP was third behind Monclova's departed Josh Lowey and hard-luck Acereros starter Hector Velazquez. Negrin kept it up in the postseason, winning three of four starts (including two wins over Campeche in the first round).  In 24.2 playoff innings, he flashed a 1.86 ERA with 15 strikeouts.

Yoanner Negrin Perez was born April 29, 1984 in Havana.  According to an August interview with the Merida-based Sipse website, Negrin said he loved baseball as far back as he could remember, crediting his father for helping him learn the game.  After first playing first base and shortstop, he tried pitching at age 13.  "I was rather bad," he laughed.  "I kept giving up walks.  I was on the team because my dad was the manager."  He improved to the point of beginning his Cuban National Series career at 17 with a Havana team and moving on to Matanzas at 20.  After a few seasons in the winter league, however, Negrin grew frustrated by his lack of opportunity to even try out for the powerful National Team and decided to leave the island and seek a better chance in baseball and life elsewhere, ending up in Miami.

The Chicago Cubs signed him as a 27-year-old free agent in 2011.  Negrin spent most of the next five summers in the Cubs' minor league system, with loans to Mexican League teams in Tabasco during the 2012 and 2014 seasons, showing well both times.  He suffered an elbow injury in 2015, however, and after rehabbing in Class A Eugene and AAA Iowa, Negrin was loaned to Yucatan in June and has remained since.

Similar to BBM Batter of the Year Diory Hernandez of Aguascalientes, nobody could have foreseen Negrin's incredible 2016 season.  His five-year MiLB career record after the 2015 season was a pedestrian 19-21 in 129 appearances (44 of them starts), although he had a respectable 3.67 ERA and was 8-for-12 in saves opportunities out of the bullpen.

If Lowey had remained in Monclova instead of signing in July with the Korean Baseball Organization's KT Wiz (where he's 3-5 with a 5.98 ERA after his 12th start Tuesday), he would have been in the running for this award.  Lowey was 13-3 with a LMB-leading 1.65 ERA when he departed and his 131 K's still led the loop. Puebla closer Chad Gaudin had a great year for the Pericos, saving 33 games and winning two more with a 1.64 ERA in 44 trips from the pen.  However, there's just no way you can choose anyone but a guy who goes 18-1 over a 110-game season (projecting to 26 triumphs over 162 contests) and wins two more in the playoffs to make it an even 20.  This one was easy.  Finally.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2016 BBM Summer Awards Batter of the Year: Diory Hernandez, Aguascalientes

Although the Mexican League has held a well-deserved reputation as a hitter's league for decades, 2016 was a little quieter than usual.  Sure, you had your usual LMB clubs with team batting averages topping the .300 mark, but there were only two of them this year as both Mexico City and Monterrey finished at .303. Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia led the Liga with a .386 average, but the most remarkable offensive performance of the year came from a rarely-noticed shortstop on an even less-noticed team.

Baseball was first played in Aguascalientes in 1902, but pro ball didn't arrive until 1953, when the city hosted a team in the Class A Mexican Center League for the first of 22 seasons under several nicknames (but most often known as the Tigres, after their LMB parent).  Aguascalientes entered the Mexican League in 1974 and has had a spotty record since, winning the pennant in 1978 but leaving for Nuevo Laredo in 2008, only to return in 2012.  Aguascalientes is an industrial city and state capital of 1.27 million inhabitants, and the Rieleros' ballpark (the 9,000-seat Parque Alberto Romo Chavez) will turn 80 in 2018, making it the oldest ballpark in the Liga.  Attendance is usually middle of the pack or lower, with 153,058 clicking the turnstiles over 53 games this year to rank ninth of 16 teams in a down year at the gate in most cities.  Given what he was surrounded with, Diory Hernandez' year at the plate becomes even more of a miracle.

Hernandez is the 2016 BBM Summer Batter of the Year after a remarkable season in which he hit over .400 in April before settling with a final .319 while leading the LMB with 97 RBIs.  His 23 homers tied Saltillo's Eliezer Alfonzo and Quintana Roo's Alex Liddi for third in the Liga while his 77 runs scored tied teammate Brian Burgamy for third.  Hernandez also finished in the Top Ten for hits (tied with Monterrey's Chris Roberson for 9th with 133), total bases (3rd with 224) and slugging percentage (10th at .537).  What makes those number so remarkable are the ones that preceded them.

The 32-year-old Hernandez is a native of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, a city of 191,000 known as the "Cradle of Shortstops" and home to 76 future major leaguers, including Hernandez.  A shortstop (of course), the six-footer signed with Atlanta in 2003 and kicked around the Braves' system six years before making his big league debut in 2009.  Hernandez yo-yo'd between Atlanta and AAA affiliate Gwinnett for three summers (hitting .157 in 75 games in the bigs) before splitting the 2012 campaign between Oklahoma City and Iowa of the AAA Pacific Coast League.  By this time he'd evolved into a utility infielder with a little speed and pesky hitter who'd bat anywhere between .250 and .300 or a little higher, but never hitting more than seven homers or topping 68 RBIs in a single year.

Hernandez arrived in Mexico to play at Campeche in 2013, missed 2014 altogether and opened 2015 in Veracruz before coming to Aguascalientes with no discernible difference at bat. Going into the 2016 season, he was a career .270 hitter in the minors with just 46 homers and 382 ribbies over 914 games covering 13 seasons. His 2016 output with the Railroaders increased his career homer total by 50 percent and his RBI count by another 25 percent.

Aguascalientes missed the postseason as usual, coming in sixth in the LMB North at 53-58, 19 games out of first place and 9 out of the final berth with veteran catcher Saul Soto taking over down the stretch as the Liga's first player-manager since Willie Romero with Yucatan in 2012.  In other words, chaos as usual.  But none of that takes away from Diory Hernandez' miracle year.

Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 BBM Summer Awards Manager of the Year: Willie Romero, Yucatan Leones

This may end up being the most difficult of all five 2016 Baseball Mexico Summer Awards to determine.  Not because there aren't a lot of worthy candidates, but because only 8 of the 16 Mexican League skippers in April's openers lasted throughout the season.

One could look at Puebla manager Cory Snyder, who led the Pericos to the Liga pennant earlier this month after taking over for Matias Carrillo during the All-Star Break with the team holding the best record in the circuit.  Pedro Mere deserves consideration for succeeding Luis Sojo in Tijuana at about the same time with the Toros in third place in the LMB North, then guiding the Border Bombers through the postseason to the Finals.  Likewise, Felix Fermin did a great job all year taking Monterrey to the best record in the North at 73-29 before being tripped up by Tijuana in the Division Championship Series.  But we're going to go with Yucatan helmsman Willie Romero.

Like Fermin with the Sultanes, Romero was able to avoid the axe (Carrillo's firing in Puebla was evidence that no LMB managerial job is safe) and led the Leones to a LMB-best record of 77-33, winning nine of their final ten regular season games to finish four games better than the Pericos' 73-38 mark. Yucatan then dispatched Campeche in six games to win their opening playoff series before losing to Puebla, 4 games to 2, in the South DCS.  Game Six was a 4-3 heartbreaker that went 13 innings on September 4 to end the Leones' season.

Romero was able to cobble such a strong season out of one of the LMB's lesser offenses, as Yucatan finished tenth in hits (1,042) and batting average (.278), twelfth in homers (66), eleventh in both on-base percentage (.346) and stolen bases (66).  As one may suspect, the Leones got it done with a longtime feature of teams in Merida: Pitching.  Yoanner Negrin went 18-1 to lead a staff that came in second to Quintana Roo in ERA at 3.16 (the next-best finisher, Laguna, clocked a 3.61 ERA in the hitter-firendly loop) with a 1.25 WHIP, also second to the Tigres.  Yucatan hurlers allowed just 47 homers, by far the lowest in the Liga.

The 42-year-old Wilfredo Andres Romero is a native of Maracay, Venezuela.  He signed as an undrafted outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1993 and spent six years in their minor league system, topping out in AAA Albuquerque, where he hit .285 with 10 homers and 23 steals for the Dukes in 1998.  His Mexican League debut was two years later with Saltillo, and Romero adapted quickly by batting .334 with 21 homers for the Saraperos in 2000.  The 6'0" right-hander went on to play 13 seasons in the Liga before retiring at 38 after finishing the 2012 campaign as player-manager of the Leones.  Over 19 minor league seasons, Romero was a .318 career hitter, socking 172 homers, stealing 363 bases and either scoring or driving in 2,040 runs in 1,794 games.  He played on pennant-winning teams in both Merida (2006) and Cancun (2011) and represented Yucatan in five All-Star Games, winning the All-Star MVP in 2008.

After going 35-40 as the Leones' player-manager in 2012, Romero moved on to Monclova in 2013 and took the Acereros to a 32-27 record before being let go.  He spent the 2014 season as a coach with Quintana Roo before returning to Yucatan last year, when he managed the Leones to a 66-46 record and the LMB South regular season title.

Romero is a fiery sort who was suspended for two games as a Yucatan player in 2010 after shoving a plate umpire during an argument.  Some of that fire flared up in May when Romero and pitcher Danny Guterrez took a dugout argument into the clubhouse during a game.  Romero later said the two had hugged and made up but Gutierrez was dealt to Laguna in July.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

MLB restricts 12 Mexicans from playing in MexPac, "extreme fatigue" cited

One of the banes of existence for winter baseball in Mexico and other Caribbean nations is the "extreme fatigue" clause in contracts between players and Major League Baseball organizations.  The clause allows MLB teams to determine which of their players are (in essence) too tired to play winterball after the major and minor league summer schedules are completed.  Twelve such Mexican players have been ruled out from competing in the Mexican Pacific League this winter, including four for Hermosillo.

The Naranjeros will be without pitchers Jorge de la Rosa (Rockies), Jaime Garcia (Cardinals), Cesar Vargas (Padres) and Adrian Rodriguez (Reds) this winter.  De la Rosa (pictured) has won 101 MLB games since his debut in late 2004, winning 16 contests for the Rockies in 2009 and 2013.  He's pitched 134 innings for Colorado this season, including 24 starts, and has an 8-9 record. Garcia is 10-2 for St. Louis over 170 innings in 2016.  The 24-year-old Vargas is 0-3 after seven starts for San Diego and has pitched a total of 46.2 innings this year.  Rodriguez, who turned 20 last month, tossed 33.2 frames for the Reds' Rookie affiliate in Billings, with his last pitch coming against Great Falls on July 29.

Obregon will have to make do without three players: pitchers Dallas Martinez (Yankees) and Samuel Zazueta (Rangers) plus third baseman Christian Villanueva (Cubs).  All three missed the 2016 season with injuries.  The Yaquis will particularly miss Villanueva, who was BBM's Most Valuable Player last winter after hitting .322 with nine homers in 64 games and playing good defense at the hot corner.

Other players sitting out the winter will be Los Mochis pitchers Marco Estrada (Jays) and Luis Niebla (Yankees); Culiacan hurlers Rafael Ordaz (Yankees) and Carlos Torres (Brewers); and Jalisco reliever Roberto Osuna, who has had an outstanding year with AL East-leading Toronto and wasn't too fatigued to strike out all four Seattle batters he faced on 19 pitches Wednesday night.

While there was no assurance that the likes of de la Rosa, Villanueva or Osuna would've played ball in Mexico this winter, MLB has made that decision for them (something MLB never gets fatigued from doing).

Diablos, Oaxaca to field Mexican-only nines in 2017

The Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Oaxaca Guerreros have announced their intentions to play the 2017 Mexican League season with teams consisting entirely of Mexican players.  The Puro Beisbol website has posted a press release from the Diablos stating that the two teams will be relying on homegrown talent next year, with a large number of players having spent time at the Alfredo Harp Helu Baseball Academy in San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca.

The academy, named after the Diablos' billionaire owner and a longtime proponent of developing domestic baseball talent in Mexico, opened its doors on November 12, 2009.  Since then, more than 600 prospects have attended the academy, with 38 of them now toiling with Major League Baseball organizations (including Toronto closer Roberto Osuna and Dodgers wunderkind pitcher Julio Cesar Urias, who was rated the #4 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the current season).

Mexico City currently has 77 graduates on their reserve list, with 13 who played at Estadio Fray Nano during the recently-concluded season.  One, pitcher Alexandro Delgado, went 11-1 with a 2.83 ERA for the Red Devils while shortstop Juan Carlos Gamboa batted .321 with 9 homers.  Oaxaca has a total of 36 ABAHH products in tow, including ten Guerreros in 2016.  Nineteen-year-old pitcher Erick Casillas was 1-3 with a 4.67 ERA as a reliever last summer while 21-year-old Luis Medina played three infield positions and hit .259 for Oaxaca.

The change in team policies means that some foreign players would need to find new teams in Mexico next spring.  Californian first baseman Cyle Hankerd, member of Mazatlan's Caribbean Series title team last winter, batted .322 with 16 homers and 74 RBIs for Mexico City this season while veteran Venezuelan catcher Eliezer Alfonso hit .342 with 14 homers in 69 contests for the Diablos.

This would not be the first time all-Mexican teams take the field in the LMB.  For years, Tigres' owner Alejo Peralta, who played for Veracruz in the Thirties before going on to become one of the richest men in the country, took considerable pride in his team winning Liga pennants primarily using home-grown talent.  Playing in Puebla, the Tigres celebrated their 50th anniversary season with an all-Mexican roster in 2005 and went on to win the franchise's ninth (of twelve) championship that year.

Summer BBM Awards next week, "Golden Greats" book taking shape

While Baseball Mexico has been taking a breather since last week's conclusion of the Mexican League season with Puebla's win over Tijuana in the Serie del Rey, things have been moving forward behind the scenes.

Our revived annual Summer Award winners will be announced next week.  There were no Bammys given during BBM's hiatus from 2012 through 2015.  For a trip down Memory Lane, here are the 2011 Summer Bammy winners:

Manager of the Year:  Daniel Fernandez, Veracruz Rojos Aguilas
Newcomer of the Year:  Doug Clark, Quintana Roo Tigres
Pitcher of the Year:  Francisco Campos, Campeche Piratas
Most Valuable Player:  Luis Terrero, Mexico City Diablos Rojos
Playoff MVP:  Pablo Ortega, Quintana Roo Tigres

Also coming in October, there will be wraps for all Mexican summer leagues, from the Liga through the Academy League near Monterrey.

BBM's planned "Golden Greats of Mexican Baseball" book commemorating fifty top players in the history of Mexican baseball is also coming together.  The preliminary format for "Golden Greats" will include two pages devoted to each player, with two photos, career MLB and/or LMB stats (and hopefully LMP stats, too), biographical data and 500-word profiles.  A draft list of fifty players has been put together to feature five players each at catcher, first base, second base, third base and shortstop, ten outfielders and fifteen pitchers.  Up to ten more non-players will be featured, there'll be a history of Mexican baseball and a four-page chapter on Hector Espino, easily the nation's most beloved and respected ballplayer.  The hope is that "Golden Greats" will be ready for release in time for Christmas.  That's the HOPE.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Blackley, Pericos shut out Tijuana for LMB flag

Travis Blackley tossed eight shutout innings and Chad Gaudin closed out both the game and season as the Puebla Pericos defeated Tijuana, 2-0, Wednesday night in TJ to win the Mexican League Championship Series and claim Puebla's fifth LMB pennant.  A packed house of 17,893 was on hand at Estadio Gasmart to witness Game Six of the Serie del Rey.

Blackley, a former major league hurler from Australia, only allowed singles by Dustin Martin and Roberto Lopez while striking out six and walking two to post his third playoff win of 2016.  He was named Playoff MVP by the Liga following the contest.  This might not even be the highlight of the 33-year-old lefty's past year...Blackley married American model Jenna Cecil in the offseason, with no apparent deleterious effect on his stamina (football coaches, take note).

The game was a pitcher's duel from the onset, as Tijuana starter Barry Enright matched Blackley, zero for zero, until serving up a two-out homer to Puebla first baseman Daric Barton to center field in the top of the sixth inning.  Enright lasted 6.2 innings, scattering seven hits and walking one while striking out five Pericos batsmen in absorbing a loss he really didn't deserve.  After Jose Meraz replaced Enright (who'd thrown 103 pitches) to record the final out of the seventh, Juan Sandoval took the hill for the Toros and pitched a scoreless eighth.

Sandoval, a 35-year-old Dominican righty who pitched well for Tijuana after being released by Mexico City in late June, opened the top of the ninth by letting up a leadoff double to Sergio Perez, who lined a 1-1 pitch into left field.  It looked like the Toros might escape their predicament when Alberto Carreon grounded out and Rudy Amador struck pout swinging, but Nyjer Morgan's sharp grounder up the middle into center scored pinch-runner Oscar Sanay from second to make it a 2-0 Puebla lead.  The threat ended one pitch later when Morgan lit out to steal second but was nailed by a perfect throw from Toros catcher Juan Apodaca to second sacker Carlos Valencia for the third out.

It was then left to Gaudin, who pitched for nine MLB teams between 2003 and 2013, to close out the game and season for Puebla in the bottom of the ninth, but it didn't go as smoothly as Pericos manager Cory Snyder hoped.  After Oscar Robles led off for Tijuana by lining out to Carreon at shortstop, Olmo Rosario legged out a bunt single down the third base line to keep the Toros' hopes alive.  Gaudin then faced the dangerous Dustin Martin, who'd already had a pocketful of postseason plate heroics for Tijuana.  After working the count to 3-2, Gaudin got Martin swinging for the second out. During the at-bat, Rosario broke for second to steal the bag, drawing a throw from Tapia.  Umpire Jesus Lopez ruled Rosario safe, causing Pericos skipper Snyder to come out of the dugout to protest the decision, but the call was upheld.  Gaudin then took matters into his own hands by whiffing Apodaca on five pitches to pick up his seventh playoff save and clinch the title for Puebla.

Ex-MLB outfielder Willy Taveras had an outstanding Serie del Rey for the Pericos, batting .458 over the six-game set, while Barton and Tapia each hit two homers for Puebla.  This series was decided by pitching, however, as the Pericos staff held Tijuana to a .199 average.

Puebla 2-10-0, TIJUANA 0-3-1 (Puebla wins series, 4 games to 2)
W-Blackley. L-Enright. SV-Gaudin. HR-Barton (P). T-3:02. A-17,893.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Toros stay alive; Serie del Rey moves to Tijuana

Roberto Lopez had a sub-.200 playoff batting average entering Monday night's Mexican League Championship Series Game Five in Puebla, but the Tijuana first baseman broke out of his slump in a big way to lead the Toros to a 9-2 win over the Pericos, staying alive in the Serie del Rey and sending the series back to the border city for Game Six on Wednesday.  The Toros trailed 2-1 before pushing eight runs across the plate in the top of the ninth, silencing the packed stands at Estadio Hermanos Serdan.

Lopez (pictured) cracked a double and homer in the ninth inning to the plate for the Toros, driving in three runs and scoring twice as Tijuana shaved Puebla's series lead to 3-games-to-2.  The Pericos had won the first two of three games played in Puebla, all before sellout crowds of 12,112.

Starting pitchers Horacio Ramirez of Tijuana and Orlando Lara of Puebla traded zeros until the top of the third inning, when Roberto Lopez crashed a solo homer to center off Lara to give the visitors a 1-0 nod.  The score stood until the bottom of the fifth, when Willy Taveras slashed a triple off Ramirez and later came in on Daric Barton's two-out single up the middle to tie things up for the host team.  The Pericos took the lead one frame later when Ruben Rivera led off the sixth with a single, moved to second on a groundout and scored on Rudy Amador's seeing-eye single into center to give Puebla a 2-1 advantage.

The score held until the crazy top of the ninth, during which the visitors sent twelve batters to the plate and put those eight runs on the scoreboard.  Dustin Martin, who's having a Playoff MVP-worthy finals for Tijuana, led off the inning against Puebla closer Chad Gaudin with a triple past a diving Nyjer Morgan in left field  Martin scored on third baseman Amador's throwing error on a Carlos Valencia grounder to knot the game at 2-2 and the Toros eventually filled the bases for Lopez, whose two-run double broke the deadlock for good.  Gaudin registered his first out of the inning when the sixth batter faced, Miguel Torrero, grounded out to second.  After Gaudin got Jose Guadalupe Chavez to ground into a fielder's choice out as Puebla shortstop Alberto Carreon threw Alex Romero out at the plate for the second out, the bottom really fell out for the eleven-year MLB vet.

Throwing to pinch-hitter Emmanuel Valdez, Gaudin uncorked a wild pitch that brought Lopez rumbling in from third to make it a 5-2 Toros lead, then let up a Valdez double to center that scored Chavez.  Puebla skipper Cory Snyder deduced that Gaudin maybe just didn't have it after eight batsmen and four runs and brought in Benny Suarez.  It only took nine pitches and consecutive walks to Olmo Rosario and Martin for Snyder to figure that Suarez might not have it either, calling in Julio Felix from the bullpen to face Edson Garcia, who'd pinch-run earlier and stayed in the game defensively in center field.  While working on Garcia, Felix unleashed a wild pitch of his own to move Valdez in from third to bring the score to 7-2.  Garcia then drilled a liner into right to bring in Rosario and Martin, making it a 9-2 TJ  lead before Valencia mercifully ended the onslaught by grounding out to second.  It was then left to Toros closer Jason Urquidez to post a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth against the shell-shocked Puebla batsmen to end the game and send the Serie del Rey back to Estadio Gasmart.

Urquidez pitched the last 2.1 innings, allowing no hits and whiffing three Pericos for the win.  Gaudin was tagged with both a blown save and the loss for Puebla.  Both teams put up eleven hits on the night, with Chavez and Lopez each contributing two hits for Tijuana while Taveras and Amador split six hits for Puebla, five of them singles.  Lara scattered seven hits but let in just one run over 6.2 innings for the Pericos; Ramirez lasted into the sixth and had a tougher time, coughing up all 11 hits and both Puebla runs but five relievers (including Urquidez) allowed no hits or runs the rest of the way.  The game was delayed by rain for over an hour, stretching the contest past 12:30am local time.

After a travel day Tuesday, the two teams will convene Wednesday night in Tijuana at 10:30pm ET.  Game Seven, if needed, would be played Thursday, after which many players won't have time to either celebrate or drown their sorrows.  Training camps in the Mexican Pacific League are already opening for the coming winterball season...another reason to love baseball in Mexico.

Tijuana 9-11-1, PUEBLA 2-11-2 (Puebla leads series, 3 games to 2)
W-Urquidez (1-0). L-Gaudin (0-1). HR-Lopez (R). T-3:30. A-12,112.