Saturday, August 8, 2009

LOPEZ WINS FIRST THREE DECISIONS FOR PHILLIES

When the Philadelphia Phillies signed Morelos native Rodrigo Lopez to a minor league contract in March, expectations weren’t high. After all, Lopez had undergone Tommy John surgery in August 2007 and spent last year in the Atlanta Braves organization on rehab assignment pitching in the low minors. Lopez was released by the Braves last November and signed with the World Champions four months later.

The 33-year-old righty began this season with Lehigh Valley of the Class AAA International League and went 5-4 with a 3.91 ERA before being called up to Philly last month when Brett Myers went on the 60-day disabled list. He won his first start, 7-2, over the New York Mets by pitching 6.1 innings and letting in two runs on six hits. Although Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has recently moved Lopez to the bullpen, he is 3-1 with a 3.99 ERA for the club in six appearances thus far.

For his major league career, Lopez is 68-66 with a 4.78 ERA. He pitched for Mexico in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

PUEBLA WINS 4 STRAIGHT TO ELIMINATE YUCATAN

Andres Meza tossed a four-hit shutout and Willis Otanez went 3-for-4 with two homers to lead the Puebla Pericos to a 12-0 drubbing of Yucatan Friday night to knock the Leones out of the Mexican League playoffs in their Southern Zone semifinal series.

Meza and the Pericos lost the series opener, 4-1, August 1 in Merida as Oscar Rivera pitched seven innings of five-hit ball for Yucatan. Puebla then took four straight wins, starting with Monday’s 7-3 road victory keyed by Cesar Tapia’s three-run homer.

The series shifted to Puebla on Wednesday as the Pericos took a 7-5 win thanks to Rene Reyes’ 2-run longball in the fifth. One night later, Yucatan held a 6-2 lead into the bottom of the third, but Puebla was able to come back for an 8-6 triumph as Serafin Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with 2 RBIs and Luis Suarez whacked a homer for the Pericos, leading to Friday night’s clincher. Over 43,000 fans attended three games in Puebla.

TIGRES, CAMPECHE TIED 2-2 IN RAIN-SOAKED SERIES

The Quintana Roo Tigres and Campeche Piratas are knotted up at two games apiece in their Southern Zone series that saw two games postponed by rain last week.

Quintana Roo won last Saturday’s opener in Cancun, 8-3, as Mexican League veterans Iker Franco and Carlos Sievers both homered for the Tigres. Campeche came back for a 4-2 win Sunday behind Francisco Campos’ solid seven innings of two-run pitching and Abraham Valencia’s two-run tiebreaking homer in the eighth.

The two teams moved on to Campeche, where the Piratas took a 2-1 series lead Tuesday night with a 9-8 thriller win. Jesse Gutierrez homered and hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the10th for Campeche. After a Wednesday rainout, the Tigres bashed four homers and 17 hits in a 9-1 romp Thursday night. Friday’s game was rained out.

LAGUNA ON VERGE OF ELIMINATING DIABLOS

The Laguna Vaqueros are one win away from defeating the defending Liga champion Mexico City Diablos Rojos in their Northern Zone semifinal series. The Diablos cruised to the best record in Mexico this summer during the regular season while the Vaqueros battled to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Mexico City won last Saturday’s opener at home, 7-3, behind Mario Valenzuela’s grand slam and a solid 7.2 innings of two-run pitching by Roberto Ramirez. Laguna followed with a 9-7 win Sunday as Ramon Ramirez, Luis Terrero and Emmanuel Valdes combined for ten hits at Foro Sol.

The set shifted to Torreon Tuesday, as pitchers Victor Santos and Dario Veras combined on a six-hit, 4-1 win over Mexico City as Daniel Fornes homered for the Vaqueros. Laguna went up 3-1 in the series Wednesday with a 5-4 overtime win. Eduardo Arredondo’s RBI double game the Diablos a 4-3 lead in the top of the 10th, but Laguna replied with run-scoring singles by Terrero and Fornes in the bottom of the entrada for the victory. Mexico City held off elimination Friday by winning, 6-3, as Ramirez won his second game of the series.

SALTILLO LEADING REYNOSA, 3 GAMES TO 2

The Saltillo Saraperos are one win away in their series with the Reynosa Broncos from advancing to the Northern Zone Finals. Saltillo leads, 3 games to 2.

Reynosa shocked the Saraperos, 6-0, in Saltillo last Saturday as Harold Eckert pitched six scoreless innings for the Broncos. The Sarape Men came back for a 3-1 win Sunday as Jose Mercedes tossed seven scoreless frames of his own and Nelson Teilon added a homer for Saltillo.

The Broncos then registered a 12-5 home win Tuesday as Leonardo Heras was 4-for-4 and scored three times while Edgard Clemente drove in four runs. Saltillo came back to win the next two games. Jonathan Aceves and Jose Rodriguez both homered in the eighth in Wednesday’s 9-5 Saraperos victory. Aceves is the older brother of New York Yankees pitcher Alfredo Aceves. Refugio Cervantes led a 5-4 Saltillo triumph Thursday night by going 3-for-3 with a double and a sixth-inning homer that put the Saraperos ahead for good.

MEXICAN NORTHERN LEAGUE PLAYOFFS UNDERWAY

The 2009 playoffs have begun in Mexico’s Northern League. The Mexicali Azules slipped past the Agua Prieta Vaqueros to win the second half title with a 26-18 record after stumbling to an 18-25 mark in the first half of the season and finishing seventh in the eight-team league. The San Luis Algodoneros won the first half crown at 26-17, and finished the regular season with the best overall record at 50-38 and topping the Norte with 14.5 points over two halves. Joining Mexicali, Agua Prieta and San Luis in the postseason are the Guaymas Ostioneros, Ensenada Marineros and Magdalena Embrilleras, while Caborca and Empalme both missed the cut.

In the three best-of-7 first round series, San Luis leads Ensenada, 3 games to 0, Agua Prieta has a 2-0 edge over Mexicali, and Magdalena is ahead of Guaymas, 2 games to 1. The three series winners will advance to the semifinals, as will a fourth “lucky loser” team which wins the most games in a losing effort during the first round.

HISTORIA MEXICANA 2: Toltecs, Aztecs and Conquistadores

After the Mayan empire declined in the 9th century following about 700 years of power in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico fell into a feudalistic period in which a number of peoples established various hegemonies. The most prominent of these were the Toltecs, who built their power between 900 and 1200 A.D. north of the Valley of Mexico (which is near the center of modern-day Mexico, including Mexico City). The Toltecs are believed to have migrated from the north, and were known as both harsh rulers and adept traders, particularly in obsidian. The Toltecs’ major city was Tula, which was home to about 40,000 people, but their empire spread to smaller cities which were expected to pay tribute to their rulers…and woe betide those who didn’t.

The Toltecs ruled central Mexico until the 12th century, when Tula was sacked and collapsed. Before that occurred, a number of Toltec people are thought to have moved south to the Yucatan, where there remains influence of their presence through the legend of a prince-god named Quetzalcoatl, who is depicted as a feathered serpent (also known as Kulkulcan) and the remnants of Chichen Itza, a city of 55,000 not far from present-day Merida which claimed both Mayan and Toltec roots. However, after being overthrown by nearby rivals in about 1200 AD, the Toltec culture faded.

One more major Mesoamerican dynasty appeared in the Valley of Mexico, the Aztecs. Like the Toltecs before them, the Aztecs are said to have migrated from their northern homeland of Aztlan in the 1300’s, settling in what was to become the city of Tenochtitlan after they saw an eagle devouring a snake atop a cactus, a scene depicted on the Mexican flag. Within a century, the Aztecs became the dominant culture in central Mexico through military conquest and development of agriculture. While they had been a loosely confederated tribe upon their arrival, the Aztecs became a highly-developed imperial system as notable for their ruthlessness as for their power. Great temples were built where sacrifices involving the feeding of beating hearts to the gods were the norm. In one such place, Templo Mayor, over 20,000 prisoners are said to have been sacrificed at its dedication in 1487. Five years later, Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World from Europe, and things changed drastically afterward.

When Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes arrived in 1519 near what is now the city of Veracruz, his troops should have been no match for the Aztecs, who were in decline but still outnumbered the Spaniards by the thousands. However, Cortes formed an alliance with the Tlaxcalan people, who’d been dominated by the Aztecs and wanted revenge. Cortes and his unified troops marched to Tenochtitlan for a final conquest. However, instead of meeting stiff resistance that could have crushed him, Cortes met Aztec king Moctezuma II, who viewed the fair-skinned marauder as a god and welcomed him. The result of Moctezuma’s hospitality was the brutal decimation by Cortez of the Aztec empire, the enslavement of the Aztec people and the beginning of over 300 years of the colonization of Mexico.

NEXT WEEK: The Colonial Era, Revolution and Independence