Friday, March 24, 2017

Quiroz preps with Yucatan, but will MLB be calling Leones?

Mexico's national team in the recently-concluded featured a roster with several Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball players, including a pitching staff that included notables such as Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, Royals reliever Joakim Soria, Dodgers signee Sergio Romo (a three-time World Series champ with the Giants and White Sox starter Miguel Angel Gonzalez.  The everyday lineup boasted the likes of reigning Japan Series MVP Brandon Laird and Dodgers five-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez.  With all the studs on the Mexican roster, however, it was a Pony who raised the most eyebrows earlier this month in Guadalajara and the smallest player on the Verdes Grande roster is now in training camp with the Yucatan Leones.  Whether he remains in Merida all season may be another matter.

Esteban "Pony" Quiroz, like most Mexican players who've spent their careers south of the border, is a virtual unknown in the USA and Canada beyond scouts and farm directors who took notice of the 5'7" 170-pounder two weeks ago after he went 4-for-6 at the plate with two homers and a double for five RBIs while scoring five runs in three games while playing second base and right field for Mexico.  Just in case you're wondering, that's a 1.833 slugging percentage and by drawing three walks and getting plunked by Italy's Pat Venditte, Quiroz had an on-base percentage of .800 over the three games he played.  Curiously, Mexico's manager Edgar Gonzalez lifted the 25-year-old during each game, something not ordinarily done with a team's hottest batter, but Quiroz drew the scouts' attention from the get-go by launching a homer off Italy starter Alex Maestri to lead off the first game of Pool D and they never lost sight of the little guy who can play three infield positions as well as the outfield and swing a good bat no matter where the lineup card has him.  For his efforts, Quiroz was named Mexico's MVP for the 2017 version of the Classic.

Quiroz broke in with the Quintana Roo Tigres as a 19-year-old in 2011, going just 3-for-25 at the plate in 24 games while playing errorless ball at second and all three outfield spots for that season's Mexican League pennant winners.  From that humble beginning, he worked to become a Gil McDougald (look him up) type of player, a guy who can play any of six defensive positions proficiently while being a solid contributor with a bat in his hands.  His totals over six years with the Tigres feature a career batting average of .287 (including .315 and .335 averages the past two summers) with 27 homers and 127 RBIs in 348 games.  Quiroz' on-base percentage in the WBC was no fluke, as the left-handed hitter has drawn 153 walks for an OBP of .394 for Quintana Roo, who won three titles with him on the roster.  Last year, his .335 average included 15 homers and his OBP was an off-the-charts .449 in 97 games.  He showed enough power to be chosen to participate in the Home Run Derby at the Mexican League's All-Star Weekend last year in Monterrey, reaching the finals before losing to Tigres teammate Alex Liddi (a former MLB player who stands nine inches taller and 55 pounds heavier than Quiroz).

All the above makes the Tigres' decision to let Quiroz get away to division rival Yucatan in the offseason a curious one.  Perhaps it was concern over tendinitis in his right knee, a condition that shortened his winterball season in Mazatlan to 31 games, during which he hit just .198 with one homer.  The Obregon native did make a trip to Tokyo last winter with the Mexican National Team and homered in the first of two games against Samurai Japan, but it was largely a lost winter for Quiroz, who was the 2015-16 Mexican Pacific League's Rookie of the Year after hitting .317 with seven roundtrippers for the Venados' MexPac and Carbibean Series championship team (batting .400 for Mazatlan in the CS last year).  Perhaps his trade to the Leones on February 24 was part of a general housecleaning on the part of new Tigres owner Fernando Valenzuela, whose son Fernando Junior is now the GM for the Cancun club.  Whatever the reason, Esteban Quiroz now finds himself in Merida, where he joined his new teammates in training camp last week.

"I fortunately had a very good Classic, where I think I helped a lot and learned from the great players I was around," Quiroz said to Punto Medio's Jessica Sanchez.  "That's one more motivation in my career."  Quiroz added that he's happy to be joining the Leones, who finished with a Liga-best 77-33 record under manager Willy Romero last summer before losing the LMB South title series to eventual champion Puebla.  "I'm happy to be here and will help in whatever I can."  How long he helps the White City team is a topic of conjecture, given how MLB scouts noticed him at the WBC and are now aware of this diminutive Mexican player with versatility in the field (Quiroz' best position is second base but he appears ticketed for shortstop in Yucatan) and both pop and patience at the plate.  There are organizations north of the border he can help and it only seems a matter of time before one of them places a phone call to the team office in Merida.

The Leones open the regular season next Friday when they play the Tigres in Cancun.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Report: New Mexico City ballpark 65 percent completed

Mexico City's new baseball stadium will not be ready to open this year, as originally hoped, but a report states that the new ballpark is almost two-thirds finished and should be ready during the 2018 season.

According to Beatriz Pereyra in Proceso, Mexico City Diablos Rojos general manager Othon Diaz says that while the team would love to be able to open the new facility in time for the start of next year's schedule, there are construction questions that may push the opener back to the third quarter of the 2018 season.  "For example," Diaz says, "the crane that will install a roof over the stands can't be used if there is too much wind, as per regulations.  There are several limitations that prevent us from giving a specific date."  Pereyra adds that environmental mitigation concerns and efforts have slowed progress on the ballpark, which is located within the Magdalena Mixhuca Sports City grounds owned and operated by the Mexico City government.

It will feature synthetic turf on a symmetrical field of 332 feet down both foul lines and 410 feet to straightaway center field, which may be a smallish playing surface in a city that sits at an elevation of 7,382 feet.  Both Guadalajara and Denver are at elevations of 2,000 less than Mexico City and both are considered launching pads for batters belting baseballs into the thinner air.

The ballpark, which will cost US$90 milliion (with Diablos owner Alfredo Harp Helu contributing about US$12 million) will have 12,000 permanent seats but be expandable to 16,000 with temporary seating beyond the outfield fences.  While it'll be far from the kind of ballpark that could host a Major League Baseball team in Mexico City, it will be one of Mexico's largest baseball venues and certainly among the most state of the art in a Mexican League that features a number of aging facilities among its current 16-team lineup.

There's no question that the primary tenant Diablos Rojos are chomping at the bit to move out of Estadio Fray Nano, where the team has resided since moving out of Foro Sol before the 2015 season.  Although Foro Sol seats 25,000 for baseball, it was built as a concert venue and not designed to house a ballclub. The Diablos called Foro Sol "home" for 14 seasons and the facility has also hosted World Baseball Classic pool play in 2009 and MLB exhibition games, but it was never a comfortable fit for the sport.

As a result, Harp invested nearly US$3 million into renovations at Estadio Fray Nano, expanding the seating from 3,000 to 5,200 along with other upgrades to bring it up to Mexican League standards as a temporary home for the team while the new ballpark is under construction.  It was expected that attendance would dip at Estadio Fray Nano, named after a sportswriter who helped created the Mexican League in 1925, but turnout has been far worse than anticipated.  After averaging just under 4,000 per game at Foro Sol in 2014, the Diablos' last year there (a pennant-winning season), crowds dipped to a 2,787 average at Fray Nano in 2015 and 2,511 last season, both in the bottom quartile of LMB attendance figures.  Although the facility is far more hospitable to baseball than Foro Sol ever was, it's also one of the Liga's smallest and people are simply not coming to Diablos games.

While there's little question the Diablos Rojos will benefit from the move to the new structure once it's complete, there is speculation about whether they'll have company.  There has been some clamor south of the border for the Quintana Roo Tigres to move back to the team's city of origin, a clamor only likely to grow now that Carlos Peralta, who moved the Tigres first to Puebla and then Cancun, has sold the team to a group of investors led by former Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela.  The Tigres have never really caught on in Cancun despite winning four Liga pennants since moving to the resort city in 2007.  The Tigres and Diablos developed the most storied rivalry in Mexican baseball over more than four decades of sharing the long-lost (and long-lamented) Parque de Social Seguro and Foro Sol before Peralta first transferred the Tigres to Puebla in 2002.

Whether Valenzuela would walk away from the state subsidies his franchise routinely has received in Quintana Roo to be a tenant in a ballpark overseen by the Diablos and team president Roberto Mansur (assuming Harp or Mansur would approve having a second team in Mexico City) remains to be seen, but the possibility is something worth keeping an eye on.  A Diablos-Tigres co-tenancy would not likely happen prior to the 2019 season, it could revive public interest in a key rivalry for a league in dire need of revival.

Monday, March 20, 2017

TJ tops Rangers, 8-7, for fifth straight win vs. MLB teams

Exhibition games.  While some folks will follow them closely to try getting a handle on the chance of success for this team or that player, they're largely (and correctly) seen as little more than established veterans rounding into shape for the upcoming regular season, prospects trying to impress the coaches and front offices as managers try to determine who'll be able to help his team the most while figuring out their 25-man roster.  Even so, it's pretty hard to look at what the Mexican League's Tijuana Toros have done on the field this month playing against Major League Baseball teams while training in Tucson, Arizona and not be impressed.

The Toros are coming off a 2016 campaign during which they rose from their third-place finish in the Northern Division standings to reach the championship series before losing to Puebla in six games.  Tijuana was expected to be one of the favorites in the LMB North in 2017, but it's hard to imagine even manager Pedro Mere expected his team to reel off five straight wins against MLB teams during the preseason amid an overall seven-game winning skein, including Sunday's 8-7 triumph over Texas in ten innings at the Rangers' spring training home in Surprise.

The Rangers took an early lead in Sunday's contest when Frandy De La Rosa launched a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning off Tijuana starter Mark Serrano, a former Reds and Diamondbacks minor leaguer. Chris Valencia's two-run single to left in the top of the third closed Tijuana's deficit to one run.  Texas prospect Luis La O, who compiled a career .329 average in the Cuban National Series before signing with the Rangers in January, punched a two-run single in the bottom of the fifth to stretch the Rangers' advantage to 5-2, but the Toros fought back with four runs in the top of the eighth (including a Valencia two-run double) to take the lead.

Texas score twice more in the bottom of the frame to regain the advantage, which held through the top of the ninth, but the two teams agreed to an elongated game so players could get a little more work in, which gave the Toros one more chance in the top of the tenth that they took full advantage of.  After Isaac Rodriguez got on board by singling off Rangers reliever Ariel Jurado, former Arizona State catcher R.J. Ybarra (pictured) socked a two-run roundtripper to give Tijuana an 8-7 lead and Toros reliever Jason Urqiudez shut out the Rangers in the bottom of the tenth to close out the win.

The victory gives the Toros an 8-1 preseason record, including three wins over the Rangers, two against Korea's NC Dinos (who are also training under Arizona skies) and single wins versus the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.  Tijuana clobbered the Dodgers, 6-1, Friday in Glendale as first baseman Cyle Hankerd swatted a two-run longball to give the Toros a fourth-inning lead they would open further as the game progressed.  The only TJ exhibition loss was a 7-4 defeat at the hands of the Oakland A's on March 8 in Mesa.  The Toros have two more preseason games scheduled against big league teams this week when they take on the world champion Chicago Cubs in Mesa Wednesday before playing the Cincinnati Reds Friday in Goodyear.  It should be noted that Tijuana's success has come against teams in minor league camps (as opposed to the 40-man rosters on the big league squads) and most opposing players are ticketed for AAA and AA affiliates, but the Toros ARE defeating opponents representing MLB teams and that is also worthy of mention when they represent MiLB's lone sanctioned foreign league.

In another development for the Toros, infielder Alex Liddi has joined the team after playing for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, hitting .250 with two homers and four RBIs in four games.  The 6'4", 225-pound former Seattle Mariner, who actually played 33 games at second base for AA Northwest Arkansas in 2015 (could you imagine breaking up a double play sliding into someone that size?), played last summer with the Quintana Roo Tigres and hit .281 with 23 homers and 91 RBIs.  Liddi was the 2009 California League MVP and played in three Futures Games as a Seattle farmhand and spent parts of three seasons with the Mariners between 2011 and 2013, batting .208 with six homers and 16 RBIs over 61 games playing first base, third base and left field.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Will they or won't they? Meet your 2017 Durango Generales!

After the tension, the anger and ultimately the disappointment among Mexican baseball aficionados in the aftermath of the World Baseball Classic's Pool D competition in Guadalajara last week, this seems an opportune time for a little comic relief, thoughtfully provided by the Mexican League's Durango Generales.

If you're a regular reader of BBM, you're likely already aware of the Liga's version of "The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight," but here's a brief refresher course:  The Generales story really begins in 2012, when businessman Carlos Mejia bought the moribund Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes (who were drummed out of the LMB after refusing to show the league their financial situation) and moved them from the Mexico-Texas border to Cuidad del Carrmen, a city of 170,000 in the state of Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico's southern coast.  The newly-named Carmen Delfines spent five summers at 8.200-seat Estadio Resurgimento, winning a South Division regular season title in 2013 under manager Felix Fermin but otherwise finishing among the also-rans while being first-round casualties the two seasons they reached the playoffs.  The Delfines averaged over 4,000 fans per opening for their 2012 debut season, but attendance steadily declined before the franchise shut down after drawing 2,615 a night in 2016 and moved to Durango when team owner Virgilio Ruiz got approval for the transfer from the LMB Assembly of Presidents in November.

This is where the fun begins.

Durango is not a stranger to the Mexican League.  The colonial city of over 500,000 residents has had two LMB teams (both named the Alacranes), first for the 1956 and 1957 seasons and again from 1976 through 1979, but baseball has never really gained a foothold there.  The last year a Class AAA team represented Durango was in 1980, when yet another club called the Alacranes played in the so-called ANABE league that sprang up in the wake of a player strike that cancelled the Mexican League campaign in midseason.

One result of the sport's longstanding absence was that 8,000-seat Estadio Francisco Villa (pictured amid mounds of dirt), opened in 1972 and renovated four years later when the Alacranes 2.0 began their four-year LMB run, had fallen into disrepair.  One of the stipulations of the franchise shift was that Ruiz was to secure renovations to the ballpark in time for the 2017 season, something the owner assured his fellow team presidents would be done.  Instead, there was no movement on the facility for months, as the Durango state government dragged its heels on paying for the work to be performed.  The renovations finally began after the first of the year but there was no way the ballpark would be ready for the start of the season in the best of circumstances and a league schedule shows the Durango Generales playing their first five series of the coming season on the road.  The consensus opinion among Mexican baseball writers appears to be that there's no way the facility will be ready to open for Liga home games by mid-April, however, as work was progressing much slower than expected.  Proceso's Beatriz Pereyra (who is rapidly becoming my favorite Mexican baseball writer) says the state is spending 30 million pesos, or about US$1.5 million, on stadium upgrades, adding that LMB operations manager Nestor Alva Brito recently toured the facility and estimates that it won't be ready until at least June.

Another fly in the ointment regards further state subsidies for the team itself, or the lack thereof.  Ruiz claimed at the November Presidents meeting that he would receive financial and tax assistance from the State of Durango to operate the Generales, a not-uncommon occurance among a number of Mexican League franchises (mostly among the so-called Old Guard owners and teams).  That situation changed following the elections last November when then-governor Jorge Herrera Caldera was replaced by Jose Rosas Aispuro, who has been far less willing to share state resources with the team, a situation mirrored in Quintana Roo which helped compel longtime owner Carlos Peralta to sell the storied Tigres franchise to a group fronted by former Dodgers All-Star pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.  The lack of taxpayer pesos flowing into the Generales' coffers seriously threatened to kill the team's season before it started and the issue remains unresolved as of today.

Then there's the matter of hiring a manager.  Ruiz did not announced a skipper for his team until Thursday, when Cuban-born Joe Alvarez was chosen to lead the Generales with just two weeks to prepare for the regular season.  Alvarez spent nearly four decades playing or managing in the minor leagues for a number of MLB organizations and took the Puebla Pericos to the 2014 LMB championship series against Mexico City on an interim basis before spending the past two summers coaching with the SK Wyverns in South Korea.  He was rumored to be Ruiz' choice as far back as December.  Alvarez and his coaching staff will need to prepare their team in just 14 days of training camp before their season begins March 31 in Aguascalientes, according to the team's Facebook page (there's no website yet).

Ahhh, training camp.  Players began showing up to begin working out in preparation for the regular season a couple weeks ago.  The problem?  Nowhere to play and nobody to lead them.  An exhibition game against the Union Laguna Vaqueros last week had to be scuttled and it appears that Durango still has yet to play a preseason contest.  Not to worry, according to Ruiz, who was quoted by Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballasteros as saying, "Our team is not out of shape and they have not stopped preparing.  In 2012, the Carmen Delfines had only 20 days of practice and we were leaders of the South Division."  The record shows that Carmen tied for fifth with a 51-60 record that year (they finished first in 2013).  In any case, the team will need a lot of things to go right in short order before their road opener against the Rieleros in two weeks.  Ruiz also claims to have the financial wherewithal for the 2017 season, that the government is "fully engaged" in ballpark renovations and that the scheduled April 18 home opener against Veracruz, assertions that may be similar to the assurances he gave at November's league meeting.

So whither goest the Durango Generales?  Even Mexican writers who've covered the Liga for years are unsure, although skepticism appears to be the order of the day even among those who think they'll be able to at least begin the regular season.  A more common thread is that the LMB would be better served by fielding just 15 teams this year (assuming the Arellano brothers are able to operate their teams in Yucatan and Merida after having their assets frozen by the federal government earlier this month) to give Ruiz more time to properly build his team and ensure ballpark renovations are completed by April 2018.  It's believed that although a 111-game season schedule with all 16 teams has been released, the league reportedly has an alternate 15-team schedule (including rotating byes) in case the Generales don't make it to the starting gate.

So will the Generales play in 2017?  My own guess is that they won't unless the Alvarez, his coaches and his players are willing to spend at least the first ten weeks of the season living out of their suitcases.  There have been instances of "Road Warriors" teams playing entire seasons on the road, but those have usually been independent clubs, not members of a league with a Class AAA designation.  At this point, I'm not holding my breath and neither should you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Postscripts from the WBC Pool D and Guadalajara

After taking a day to let the dust settle after Venezuela slipped past Italy, 4-3, Monday to cop the second and final World Baseball Classic second round berth out of Pool D play in Guadalajara, let's look at the aftermath of the goings-on at Estadio Charros between last Thursday and Monday and the potential longer-term ramifications.

First of all, I've heard from a longtime BBM reader who has a great deal of experience in an official capacity at international baseball tournaments in both hemispheres and whose opinion I trust.  What I'm told is that the formula used to determine that Venezuela, not Mexico, would advance to Monday's tiebreaker game against Italy was set prior to the opening of the WBC and applied in the wake of Mexico's 11-9 victory over Venezuela, a game that took nearly five hours to complete nine innings and didn't conclude until nearly 2AM in Guadalajara.

The sticking point among Mexican officials in the hours that followed was how to interpret  Italy's five-run ninth inning in their 10-9 upset of the host country Friday night, a frame in which MLBers Roberto Osuna and Oliver Perez failed to record a single out before John Andreoli's game-winning single ended the game.  There was much heated debate over how the tiebreaker formula should be applied, but the WBC's initial erroneous tweet that Mexico had advanced to play Italy Monday night likely caused more damage to the tournament's credibility than than any calculator did.  The blowback could be seen at Estadio Charros during Monday's game, when only 1,783 people (possibly a WBC record for smallest attendance at a single game) rattled around the stands after the six previous contests drew a total of 84,349 for an average of 14,058 per opening.  A Mexico-Italy tiebreaker likely would have pushed the five-day attendance total to over 100,000.

By the way, here's an explanation of how the tiebreaker rule was used, courtesy of USA Today and Sports Illustrated via Wikipedia:  The first tiebreaker criterion is fewest runs allowed per defensive inning played(RA/IPD) in the games between the tied teams. Mexico allowed 19 runs, Italy allowed 20 runs, and Venezuela allowed 21 runs. Italy and Venezuela played 19 innings each in the two games, therefore their RA/IPD were 1.053 and 1.105. Mexico played 18 innings, but they recorded no outs in the ninth inning of their game versus Italy, therefore the inning did not count towards their RA/IPD of 1.117; however the five runs scored in the same half inning by Italy did count against Mexico's RA/IPD.  Whatever one thinks of the outcome, those ARE the rules, my source says they were followed as written and I believe him.

One result of the postgame imbroglio is that Mexican team captain Adrian Gonzalez (pictured) says that this will be his last WBC regardless of whether he's still playing in 2021.  This is significant in that "El Titan" has been a mainstay for Mexico at every WBC since its inaugural tournament in 2006 and made the trip to Jalisco despite battling a version of tennis elbow since last winter that had kept him out of the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup for spring training games in Arizona.  The rust showed, as Gonzalez went just 1-for-12 at the plate in three Pool D games, but hthe Dodgers All-Star's openly-stated desire to make the trip and play through pain is a testament of his commitment to suiting up for Mexico and his brother, manager Edgar Gonzalez.  Father David Gonzalez, a Mexican baseball coach for decades, was on the WBC staff as well.  Adrian has been known to voice his displeasure in the past and his comment Monday that the WBC "is trying to be the World Cup, but they're not even the Little League World Series" would qualify, but he may change his mind in four years.  Or not.

This touches on another aspect of the WBC that has plagued many teams other than Mexico's:  Staging the event two weeks into MLB training camps means players are not showing up for the WBC in game shape.  This was never clearer than on Friday, when Toronto closer Osuna (who saved 36 games for the Jays last season) was knocked around by Italian batters before being yanked for Perez, who did pitch over the winter for Culiacan in the Mexican Pacific League, but Gonzalez and Osuna were hardly the only cases of players representing their countries in the WBC before their bodies were ready.  Many Mexican baseball columnists have questioned the wisdom of bypassing players who'd spent the winter in the MexPac or other such leagues in favor of some more accomplished but out-of-shape big leaguers. The emergence of Israel and The Netherlands from Pool A with teams consisting largely of minor leaguers did not go unnoticed.

There was some controversy in Guadalajara even before Sunday night's marathon.  Just before the ninth inning of Puerto Rico's 9-4 win over Mexico, fighting broke out in the family section of the stands in left field foul territory, causing members of the Puerto Rican team to come out of their dugout to check on family and friends who were sitting there.  All-Star catcher Yadier Molina later tweeted, "MLB,,,its a shame that you are more interested in making money and not in the security of our family when you were supposed to have security for them,, Horrible organization for this event, no security for the players family ,, its a shame MLB..."  In fairness, I've seen no reports than any WBC player's family members were caught up in the disturbance, but it was a tense situation.  Molina is not alone among players and others criticizing how the event was put together in Jalisco, but his comments have perhaps drawn the most attention.

One other incident on Saturday was the ninth-inning home plate collision between Italian baserunner Drew Butera and Venezuelan catcher Salvador Perez, whose backup in Kansas City is...Drew Butera.  Replays imply no malice on the part of Butera, who appeared to stumble into Butera in front of the plate while trying to score the game-winning run from first on a Gavin Cecchini single, but the result was something that makes every MLB general manager cringe as Perez (a four-time All-Star) was helped off the field, taken out of the game and given two MRIs for a knee injury.  Perez says he'll be ready for Opening Day of the Royals' season, but longstanding concerns over prominent MLB players getting injured in the WBC were reignited.

So what do I take from all this in my own more-or-less final analysis?  When you have top players avoiding the WBC the way NFL players avoid the Pro Bowl, you have a problem.  When some general managers discourage players from participating in the WBC, you have a problem.  When you have inspired minor leaguers representing nations not known as baseball hotbeds (hello, Israel) advancing to the next stage while more accomplished and better-paid players (hello, South Korea) are knocked out by the upstarts, you have a problem.  When you have All-Stars saying they will never again play for their national team in your tournament, you have a problem.  When most fans in MLB cities across North America show no interest in your tournament to begin with, you have a problem.  When sources say this may be the last WBC anyway if it doesn't pencil out financially for MLB, you REALLY have a problem.

I love the concept (if not the execution) behind the World Baseball Classic, but I just don't see this event continuing in this form after next weekend.  The negatives simply outweigh the positives.  While MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said he wants the WBC continue, this was Bud Selig's baby and Selig's retirement took away the tournament's most vigilant defender.  The clock is ticking.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mexico in wild 11-9 win vs. Venezuela, still eliminated from WBC

Diminutive Esteban Quiroz swatted a three-run homer to key a five-run second inning, a blast that got bigger as the night went on with Mexico holding on to top Venezuela, 11-9, Sunday in a marathon at Guadalajara's Estadio Charros.  The win was Mexico's first in three games at the World Baseball Classic Pool D competition, and created a three-way tie for second with Venezuela and Italy at 1-2 apiece, behind Puerto Rico's perfect 3-0 mark.  Mexico and Italy were first cited by a number of websites (including the WBC's) to be the teams advancing to a tiebreaker game Monday night, but a set of rules based on runs allowed gave Venezuela a slight nod over Mexico in that regard, thus creating an Italy-Venezuela tiebreaker instead.

After a scoreless first inning, Mexico opened the second with a five-run outburst off Venezuelan starter Yusmeiro Petit that gave his Verdes Grande counterpart, Luis Mendoza, a nice cushion.  A Japhet Amador double scored Brandon Laird from second base and sent Alex Verdugo from first to third. After Efren Navarro walked, Cochito Cruz' sacrifice fly brought in Verdugo and Xorge Carrillo's flyout to right sent Amador to third, the 5'7" Quiroz (pictured) worked Petit into a full count before swinging his red bat to send the ball rocketing over the right field wall past the scoreboard to bring the score to 5-0.

Venezuela was able to get one run back in the bottom of the third as Robinson Chirinos scored from second on Martin Prado's line single up the middle off Mendoza.  Neither team scored in the fourth but Brandon Laird detonated a three-run homer beyond the videoscreen in left center field off reliever Wil Ledezma in the top of the fifth to put Mexico up by an 8-1 count.  Carlos Torres replaced Mendoza on the mound in the bottom of the frame after the latter allowed an Alcides Escobar double and was touched for three runs.  Ender Inciarte doubled home Escobar, Martin Prado's ground-rule double drove Inciarte in and Miguel Cabrera singled in Prado to close the gap to 8-4.

An Adrian Gonzalez sacrifice fly brought Carrillo with Mexico's ninth run in the top of the sixth to make it 9-4, but Puerto Rico came back with a pair of runs on consecutive two-out singles by Chirinos and Altuve.  Chris Roberson, who entered the game as a pinch-runner for Quiroz in the sixth and remained defensively in center field, stroked a two-run single in the top of the seventh to bring Mexico's lead back to five at 11-6.  Sergio Romo came on in relief in the bottom of the seventh and lasted long enough to record an out among three runs, four hits (including a two-run Victor Martinez homer) and a walk before being pulled for Jake Sanchez, who got the final two outs without further damage, but the host team's advantage had been whittled to 11-9.

Robert Suarez and Jose Alvarez held the Mexicans scoreless in the eighth and Sanchez came back out for the bottom of the entrada long enough to walk Cabrera on five pitches (with some batters, one can never be too careful), then was replaced on the hill by Oliver Perez.  Perez got Carlos Gonzalez to ground to Adrian Gonzalez at first for an unassisted double play, then went seven pitches into the count with Martinez, who lined out to Navarro in left field for the final out.

Alvarez then battled to hold Mexico scoreless for a second straight inning in the ninth and after Perez coaxed Rougned Odor to dribble a comebacker to the mound for the first out, Roberto Osuna, who suffered a collapse of epic proportions against Italy Thursday, was sent out by manager Edgar Gonzalez with the game on the line once more.  Osuna's first pitch was drilled for a single to left by Escobar and Inciarte walked
on a full count to put the tying run on base.  The normally placid Gonzalez sprang from the dugout to argue the fourth ball with home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott, earning an early shower.  Osuna went on to srike out Chirinos swinging on four pitches and getting Altuve to sky a 1-2 delivery to Alex Verdugo in right for the game's final out.

Mendoza earned the win for Mexico and Osuna got the save while Petit absorbed the loss for Venezuela.  Amador went 3-for-5 for the winners while Laird scored twice and drove in three runs, but it was the bat of leadoff hitter Quiroz that set the early pace before he was replaced on the basepaths by Roberson.  Quiroz went 2-for-3 with two runs and three ribbies in the slugfest, keeping his WBC batting average at .667 with two homers and five RBIs in three games, two at second base and Sunday in right field.  The two teams required four hours and 45 minutes to play nine innings, between the combined 20 runs, 30 hits, 11 walks and 13 pitching changes.  The game ended shortly before 2:00AM local time.

Puerto Rico began Sunday's Pool D play by tripling up on Italy, 9-3, to finish the first round with a 3-0 record.  Italy ended the round robin 1-2.  Carlos Correa and Enrique Hernandez each had three of Puerto Rico's 13 hits.  Correa, Francisco and Mike Aviles both scored twice, Correa's three RBIs were augmented by Hernandez' two.

John Andreoli's two-run homer in the first inning and Drew Butera's solo shot in the second accounted for all of Italy's scoring, as Alessandro Vaglio's pinch single was the only other hit off Jose Berrios and two Puerto Rican relievers.  Berrios earned the win, pitching five innings and allowing three runs on two hits, while Luis Lugo took the loss for Italy after being scuffed up for four runs in 2.1 innings.  A crowd of 11,924 spectators, the smallest in four days at Estadio Charros, was on hand to watch.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lindor homers twice as Mexico loses to Puerto Rico, 9-4

Mexico fell behind Puerto Rico early and never caught up in their World Baseball Classic Pool D game Saturday, as the Puerto Ricans went on to win, 9-4, to clinch a berth in the WBC's second round in San Diego.  Francisco Lindor had three hits and three RBIs for the winners, including a pair of homers, as Puerto Rico raised their first-round record to 2-0.  Mexico fell to 0-2 as 15,647 looked on at Guadalajara's Estadio Charros.

Puerto Rico got off to a fast start in the top of the first inning when Angel Pagan led off with a single, followed by Francisco Lindor homer to right off Miguel Angel Gonzalez to take an early 2-0 lead.  Mexico got one run back in the bottom of the first when Esteban Quiroz drew a leadoff walk off Boricuan starter Jorge Lopez, moved to second when Luis Juarez lined a single to right, advanced to third on Adrian Gonzalez' grounder to short, with Juarez forced out at second, and scored on a single by Brandon Laird (pictured).  That would be the only run Lopez allowed in his 59-pitch start before he was replaced by Hector Santiago with one out in the fifth.

The favored Puerto Ricans scored again in the third when Carlos Beltran's liner up the middle plated Pagan with his second run of the night, and then opened a 4-1 lead after Reymond Fuentes came in on Carlos Correa's sacrifice fly to center.  Gonzalez began the frame by walking both Fuentes and Pagan before Mexico skipper Edgar Gonzalez replaced him with Jake Sanchez, who later gave up the Beltran single that scored Pagan, a run charged to pitcher Gonzalez.  Lindor then hit his second homer of the night in the top of the seventh off Yankees prospect Giovanny Gallegos to add one more run to Puerto Rico's lead at 5-1.

Mexico showed some fight in the bottom of the seventh, though.  After leading off with a two-strike double, Laird moved to third on an Efren Navarro single and scored on Chris Roberson's one-bagger two put the score at 5-2.  Xorge Carrillo then sent a grounder to third baseman Correa, who threw to second to force Roberson but the ball sailed into right field, allowing Navarro to come around from second to score with Roberson taking third to put Mexican runners at the corners with one out.  Puerto Rican pitcher Santiago struck out Manny Rodriguez on four pitches for the second out, creating a little breathing room for working against Alex Verdugo.  During the encounter, Santiago uncorked a wild pitch that Yadier Molina couldn't flag down, allowing Roberson to score from third to narrow Puerto Rico's lead to 5-4.  Verdugo eventually tapped a full-count comebacker to Santiago on the mound for the easy toss to first for the final out.

Fernando Salas replaced Gallegos on the hill for Mexico in the top of the eighth and tossed a scoreless inning but once again, trouble arrived in the ninth for the Verdes Grande.  Miguel Aguilar pitched to two batters, getting Pagan to ground out to short and letting up a Lindor singles, before Royals reliever Joakim Soria was brought in.  Soria induced Correa to fly out to right for the second out before walking Beltran and giving up a Molina single that scored Lindor before serving up a three-run homer to left center by Javier Baez.  Facing a 9-4 deficit, Mexico put runners on second and first with nobody out against young Mariners closer Edwin Diaz in the bottom of the ninth, but Carrillo struck out and Rodriguez lined into a double play to end the game.

Laird and Juarez each had two of Mexico's seven hits, with Laird's double the only extra-base knock.  The Nippon Ham Fighters slugger, who was the 2016 Japan Series MVP, scored once and drove in a run.  Lindor went 3-for-5 for Puerto Rico, with three runs and three ribbies.  Lopez got the win for Puerto Rico while Gonzalez absorbed the loss for Mexico.

In Saturday's first game, Venezuela nipped Italy, 11-10, in ten innings as both nations evened out their Pool D records at 1-1.  Martin Prado went a perfect 5-for-5 for the winners, knocking out a pair of doubles, including the game-winner in the top of the tenth, a line drive up the middle off Trey Nielsen than scored Jose Altuve with the go-ahead run.  Padres farmhand Jose Castillo pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the tenth for the save while Francisco Rodriguez got the win.

A hush fell over the crowd of 12,187 following a collision at home plate in the ninth when Italy's Drew Butera awkwardly ran into Venezuela catcher Salvador Perez, injuring Perez' knee.  The play developed after two outs as Alex Liddi singled off Rodriguez and was replaced at first base by Drew Maggi, followed by a walk to Butera and then a single up the middle by Gavin Cecchini that scored Maggi to tie the game at 10-10.  Butera tried to come in all the way from first but reached home plate just behind a relay throw to Perez from Rodriguez.  Butera, like Perez a Royals catcher, tried to avoid his All-Star teammate in KC but fell into Perez' knee on the play.  Perez was helped off the field and to a local hospital for an MRI.

Sunday's day-night doubleheader will get underway at 1:30 CDT (1930 UTC) when Italy meets Puerto Rico, followed by the nightcap at 8:00pm CDT (0200 UTC) when Mexico takes on Venezuela.