Saturday, January 30, 2010

HERMOSILLO WINS 1-0 GAME 7 THRILLER TO COP MEX PAC TITLE

Reliever Jose Vargas set down the Mazatlan Venados in a 1-2-3 ninth inning Saturday night to seal the Hermosillo Naranjeros’ 1-0 win over the home team, cinching the Mexican Pacific League pennant in the seventh and deciding game of the League Championship Series.

Hermosillo center fielder Chris Roberson (pictured) led off the game with a triple to the center field wall, and was subsequently driven across home plate on a fly ball to right by Vinny Castilla for what would be the game’s only run. The Naranjeros collected only three hits on the night, but Mazatlan was able to gather just six singles in the contest themselves in a fabulous pitcher’s duel between Naranjeros starter Juan Delgadillo and Mazatlan’s Walter Silva.

Delgadillo tossed shutout ball until being pulled with two out in the eighth, scattering those six hits and a walk on three strikeouts for the win. For his part, Silva pitched beautifully for Mazatlan over eight full innings, allowing just two hits and a pair of walks with seven strikeouts for the defending champion Venados, who were seeking their fourth title in six years.

REST OF CARIBBEAN SERIES FIELD SET

The other three leagues sending teams to the Caribbean Series have also concluded their respective playoffs, rounding out the field playing this week in Isla Margarita, Venezuela.

The Dominican League was the first to crown a champion, as the Escogido Leones topped the Cibao Gigantes, 5-3, last Thursday in Game Nine at Estadio Julian Javier in San Francisco de Macoris. Francisco Liriano (pictured) won his third postseason game by pitching five innings of one-hit shutout ball for Escogido.

Two more champions were crowned Friday night. The Caracas Leones topped Magallenes, 7-2, to take the seventh and deciding game of the Venezuelan Series as Carlos Maldonado was 4-for-5 at the plate with a double and two RBIs. Gregor Blanco added a solo homer to back up Caracas starter Jason Standridge, who let in one run in six innings.

Also, the Mayaguez Indios had to go eleven innings Friday before finally vanquishing the Caguas Criollos, 8-6, to win the Puerto Rican League Championship Series in five games. Angel Sanchez had four hits with a run and two RBIs for Mayaguez while Edwards Guzman knocked in a pair of runs as the Indios clinched their first trip to the CS since 2005.

CS PLAY TO OPEN TUESDAY IN VENEZUELA

With the four-team field set, the 2010 Caribbean Series will open play Tuesday with a pair of games at Isla Margarita, Venezuela. Mayaguez will take on Escogido at 3PM Tuesday, followed by an 8PM nightcap between Hermosillo and host team Caracas.

The six-day tournament will feature a double round-robin schedule among the four teams. The Mex Pac champion Naranjeros will also take on Escogido at 3PM Wednesday before squaring off against Mayaguez on Thursday, also at 3PM.
Hermosillo then begins their second run against CS opponents Friday night at 8 against Caracas, Saturday at 3PM versus Escogido and wrapping up Sunday afternoon at 3 against Mayaguez. As the host team, Caracas will play in all six night games, while each other team will play four afternoon games and two under the lights.

All Caribbean Series games will be played at Estadio Nueva Esparta.

DORADOS, TECOS APPEAR TO HAVE OWNERSHIP ISSUES SETTLED

Two Mexican League teams under scrutiny in the offseason have been the Chihuahua Dorados and Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes after LMB president Plinio Escalante told both franchises they needed to clarify their ownership situations in order to field Liga teams in 2010.

The clarifications have apparently come to pass. The Dorados are being leased to a Chihuahua group headed by Mario Rodriguez by team owner Jose Maiz (pictured). Maiz, who was elected to the Salon de la Fama in 2002, also owns the Monterrey Sultanes. The Mexican League allows people to own multiple teams.

Meanwhile, according to Puro Beisbol, the Tecolotes have submitted papers outlining their ownership structure, naming Victor Manuel Ordonez their new team president. Ordonez will replace longtime Nuevo Laredo baseball figure Victor Lozano at the top of the team.

OSUNA SIGNS ONE-YEAR DEAL WITH KANASAS CITY

Left-handed pitcher Edgar Osuna has agreed to a one-year contract with the Kansas City Royals for 2010. Osuna was picked by the Royals in this winter’s Rule 5 draft after spending several seasons in the Atlanta Braves organization.

A native of Mazatlan, Osuna was signed by Atlanta as an undrafted 16-year-old free agent in 2004. He ultimately began his minor league career in 2006 with the Braves’ rookie team in the Gulf Coast League. Osuna worked his way up the Atlanta system, splitting the 2009 season between Myrtle Beach of the Class A Carolina League and Mississippi of the Class AA Southern League. Overall, his minor league career record is 22-19 with a 3.38 ERA in four years. Baseball America ranked Osuna as Atlanta’s 17th best prospect last year.

Osuna spent time this winter pitching for Mazatlan, posting a 2-0 record and 1.80 ERA in 16 appearances for the Venados before the Royals shut him down.

VALENZUELA TRADED AGAIN, THIS TIME TO OAXACA

You can’t blame Sergio Valenzuela if he’s hesitant to sign a long-term lease on an apartment these days. The ill-fated pitcher has been traded for the second time since the end of the 2009 Mexican League season, this time to the Oaxaca Guerreros.

Valenzuela’s odyssey began when he was initially dealt in the offseason by the Monclova Acereros to Quintana Roo. Then, on January 25, the Tigres shipped Valenzuela to Oaxaca in exchange for young catcher Jose Francisco Cordova.

The 25-year-old righty was 3-1 with a 3.11 ERA for Monclova last summer, but his season was most notable for his 50-game suspension handed down by the Mexican League after testing positive for amphetamine use. A former Atlanta Braves farmhand, Valenzuela has spent the winter pitching for Mazatlan, going 4-4 with a 4.65 ERA over the regular season and is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in eight relief appearances for the Venados in the playoffs.

MATEO INKS CONTRACT WITH LAGUNA FOR 2010

Major league veteran infielder Henry Mateo will open the upcoming 2010 Mexican League season in Torreon with the Laguna Vaqueros.

The 33-year-old Dominican spent last summer with the pennant-winning Durham Bulls of the Class AAA International League, batting .277 in 82 contests. Mateo has split this winter between Del Este of the Dominican League and Los Mochis of the Mexican Pacific League. After hitting just .167 in 16 games for the Toros, he finished the regular season with Mochis by batting .308 over 16 games for the Caneros.

Mateo was Montreal’s second round draft pick in 1997, and made his big league debut with the Expos in 2001. He moved with the team to Washington in 2005. In 190 games over six MLB seasons, Mateo batted .233 with one homer, 15 stolen bases and 39 runs scored.

Mateo will be expected to take over second base in Laguna for 2009 Mexican League MVP Dionys Cesar, who will play in Japan this year.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE 2009-10 League Championship Series Results

FRIDAY, January 22
MAZATLAN 5, Hermosillo 0
Christian Quintero went 3-for-4 with a solo homer and Ruben Rivera hit a 2-run homer to lead the Veandos’ series opener win.

SATURDAY, January 23
Hermosillo 4, MAZATLAN 2
Vinny Castilla homered and Travis Blackley tossed 5.2 shutout innings as the Naranjeros evened the title set.

SUNDAY, January 24
No games scheduled

MONDAY, January 25
Mazatlan 8, HERMOSILLO 7
Ruben Rivera homered and drove in 3 runs while Jon Weber had 3 hits, 2 runs and an RBI as the Venados copped a road win.

TUESDAY, January 26
HERMOSILLO 7, Mazatlan 2
Chris Roberson had 4 hits with a homer and 4 RBI (just missing the cycle by a triple) to help the Naranjeros knot the series at 2-2.

WEDNESDAY, January 27
HERMOSILLO 9, Mazatlan 0
Edgar Gonzalez pitched a five-hit shutout with support from Karim Garcia’s 3-run homer and Luis Alfonso Garcia’s 2-run blast.

THURSDAY, January 28
No games scheduled

FRIDAY, January 29
MAZATLAN 4, Hermosillo 3
Sergio Gastelum singled in the go-ahead run in the 8th. Gastelum had 3 RBIs and Ruben Rivera hit his 3rd homer of the finals.

SATURDAY, January 30
Hermosillo 1, Mazatlan 0
Juan Delgadillo pitched 7.2 innings of shutout ball as Vinny Castilla’s flyout drove in Chris Roberson with the game’s lone run.


2010 CARIBBEAN SERIES SCHEDULE
Estadio Nueva Esparta (Isla Margarita, Venezuela)

TUE, 2/2 Puerto Rico @ Dominican Republic 3pm, Mexico @ Venezuela 8pm
WED, 2/3 Dominican Republic @ Mexico 3pm, Venezuela @ Puerto Rico 8pm
THU, 2/4 Mexico @ Puerto Rico 3pm, Venezuela @ Dominican Republic 8pm
FRI, 2/5 Dominican Republic @ Puerto Rico 3pm, Venezuela @ Mexico 8pm
SAT, 2/6 Mexico @ Dominican Republic 3pm, Puerto Rico @ Venezuela 8pm
SUN, 2/7 Puerto Rico @ Mexico 3pm, Dominican Republic @ Venezuela 8pm

DR-Escogido Leones, MEX-Hermosillo Naranjeros, PR-Mayaguez Indios, VEN-Caracas Leones.

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #18): Veracruz, Veracruz

Veracruz is a city full of life and history. With about 500,000 residents, it sits on the Gulf of Mexico and ranks as one of the wettest and most humid cities in the country. It was the first town in Mexico to be founded by the Spanish conquistadores, just days after Hernando Cortes landed on Good Friday of 1519. The original site was just to the north of the present city, but the Spaniards finally settled on the current location by 1589. Veracruz immediately became Mexico’s most important seaport, a position it would hold well into the last century. As a result, it has also been the scene of many military battles over the centuries.

In addition to the Spanish, Veracruz has been occupied twice each by French and U.S.A. forces during the past 200 years, most recently in 1914 when U.S. Marines took over to protect their government’s interests during the Mexican Revolution of that time.

Despite a somewhat somber military history, Veracruz is one of the liveliest cities in Mexico. The annual nine-day winter Carnaval celebrated there ranks among the most-raucous on the American continent, and the Festival del Caribe in late August features a huge celebration of the arts. While tourism has never been a centerpiece of Veracruz’ economy, people who do visit find it one of the most fun-loving and enjoyable places in the country.

The cultural center of Veracruz is the Plaza de las Armas, a tree-filled square that has been occupied by locals and visitors (some of them belonging to invading armies) for generations. There is perpetual activity at this Zocalo from morning through night. The Plaza de las Armas is surrounded by shops and restaurants, as well as the Municipal Palace (which was built in 1608 and renovated in the 1700’s) and the Virgen de la Asuncion cathedral, which dates back to 1731. Veracruz’ port features the Pemex Tower, a crafts market, several prominent old buildings and a miles-long Malecon seaside walkway similar to that in Mazatlan.

Baseball has had a long, storied history in Veracruz, too. The Rojos Aguilas team in the LMB dates back to the 1930’s, and the city has been home to five Liga champions (although the last pennant came in 1970). “Cool Papa” Bell won the first Triple Crown in Mexican League history in 1940 playing under legendary strongman owner Jorge Pasquel. Veracruz has been one of the true hotbeds for baseball in Mexico for many years, and today many players call the state home.

The modern-day Red Eagles play their Liga home games at Parque Beto Avila, one of the smallest venues in Mexico with seating for about 7,000 fans. Veracruz is also home to a winter baseball league that draws many Mexican League veterans, and is said by some to be on a par competitively with the western Mexican Pacific League.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#19): Minatitlan, Veracruz

Saturday, January 23, 2010

VENADOS DRAW FIRST BLOOD IN MEX PAC TITLE SERIES

Christian Quintero was 3-for-4 with a solo homer and two RBIs while Ruben Rivera cracked a two-run bomb to help the Mazatlan Venados take a 5-3 win over the Hermosillo Naranjeros on January 22 in the opening game of the Mexican Pacific League Championship Series.

Pablo Ortega (pictured), who led the LMP in wins and earned run average during the regular season, let in three runs on seven hits over 6.2 innings for the Venados. Three relievers combined to hold Hermosillo hitless the rest of the way as Randy Williams picked up the save before a crowd of 15,110 packed into Mazatlan's Estadio Teodoro Mariscal.

Hermosillo jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first on a two-run double by Luis Alfonso Garcia and an RBI single by Humberto Cota, but Ortega settled down after that. Quintero’s homer in the third put the Venados on the scoreboard, but it was a four-run fifth inning keyed by Rivera’s blast off Naranjeros starter Edgar Gonzales that sealed the deal.

Game 2 was set for Saturday in Mazatlan before the series shifts to Hermosillo.

OJEDA HOMER CLINCHES FINALS BERTH FOR VENADOS

Miguel Ojeda’s two-run walkoff homer in the bottom of the 12th inning handed Mazatlan a 6-4 win over Obregon on January 17, capping a five-game semifinal series victory for the Venados over the Yaquis.

It was the second homer of the night for Ojeda (pictured) while fellow ex-MLBer Ruben Rivera knocked out a solo blast for the home team. Victor Diaz was the main man for Obregon, crunching a three-run homer of his own for the Yaquis.

Obregon had defeated Mazatlan, 4-3, on January 15 to stay alive in the series after the Venados won the first two games. Michael Martinez socked a two-run homer and added a double for the Yaquis to counter Edgar Gonzalez’ solo home for the Deer.

One night later, Walter Silva held Obregon to one run in seven innings while Rivera jacked a two-run longball as Mazatlan’s 5-2 win gave the Venados a 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5.

NARANJEROS SWEEP TOMATEROS IN SEMI SERIES

After winning the first two games of their Mex Pac Final Four set at home, the Hermosillo Naranjeros punched their ticket to the Finals by winning twice on the road in Culiacan to close out their four-game sweep of the Tomateros last weekend.

League home run champion Luis Alfonso Garcia slashed a two-run single in the ninth inning to give the Orangemen a 5-4 victory on January 15. Jose Mercedes pitched six solid innings for Hermosillo, who also got a 3-for-3 night and an RBI from Nelson Teilon as well as three hits, a run and a ribbie from Jesus Cota.

Hermosillo finished their broom job with a 3-1 triumph on January 16, thanks to 2009 Mexican League co-Rookie of the Year Juan Pablo Oramas, who allowed one run and scattered three Culiacan hits over seven frames. Vinny Castilla (pictured), whose 320 big league career homers are the most ever by a Mexican player, crashed a roundtripper for the winners. Veteran second baseman Carlos Gastelum rapped an RBI double for the Naranjeros, who recorded eight wins in ten games over their first two rounds of postseason play.

OTHER CARIBBEAN LEAGUES IN PLAYOFF HOME STRETCH

The Dominican and Venezuelan leagues are in the midst their respective championship series while the Puerto Rican League will wrap up its semifinals this weekend.

The Escogido Leones defeated the Cibao Gigantes, 3-2, on January 21 to pull into a 2-2 tie in the Dominican Series. Joaquin Arias cracked a two-run homer in the third inning for Escogido, who is managed by former St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken Oberkfell. Cibao starter Victor Zambrano was racked for seven hits and three runs in just 2.2 innings.

In the Venezuelan Series, Alex Escobar was 4-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs to lead Magallenes to a 12-10 victory over Caracas on January 22, giving the Navegantes a 2-0 lead in the best of 7 series. Josh Kroeger had three hits, including a solo homer, for the Leones.

Mayaguez and Arecibo are tied at three games apiece in their Puerto Rican League semifinal series after Arecibo swept a rare playoff doubleheader January 22. Carolina leads Caguas in the other set, 3 games to 2. The two semi winners will battle for the title this week.

DIABLOS TRADE FOUR PLAYERS TO MINATITLAN FOR AMADOR

The Mexico City Diablos Rojos have traded four players to the Minatitlan Petroleros for first baseman Japhet Amador (pictured), who played for Guasave this winter after sharing the Mexican League’s Rookie of the Year award with pitcher Juan Pablo Oramas last summer. The 23-year-old Amador, who began 2009 with Veracruz, hit .306 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs last year.

In return, the Petroleros landed a pair of major league veteran pitchers and two infielders from the Diablos: Francisco Cordova, who was 4-2 for Quintana Roo last year, spent five seasons with Pittsburgh between 1996 and 2000, compiling a 42-47 record for the Bucs; Ricardo Rincon went 1-1 for the Diablos in 2009, and spent 11 seasons with five MLB teams to turn in a 21-24 career mark as a reliever; shortstop Rolando Acosta hit .327 in 59 games for Mexico City last season; and third baseman Efren Espinoza was a .316 hitter for Oaxaca in 2009 before coming to the Diablos from the Guerreros.

TUXTLAS WINS VERACRUZ WINTER LEAGUE PENNANT

The Las Tuxtlas Brujos won their second consecutive Veracruz Winter League title by finishing their league championship series against the Xalapa Chileros with a 5-3 win on January 15, one year to the day after clinching the 2008-09 pennant.

Tuxtlas, who swept their way to first place in the regular season, got a homer from Fernando Alejos in the eighth inning to break a 3-3 tie. Major league veteran Kit Pellow then singled and later came around to score an insurance run for Tuxtlas.

The Brujos lost the first two games of the set at home to the Chileros, but then roared back to win all three games on the road in Xalapa before returning home to end the series.

FORMER LIGA STAR PANCHO GARCIA DIES AT 67

Francisco “Pancho” Garcia, who played for three different Mexican League champions and hit .271 with 114 homers for his 15-year Liga career, died January 12 in Obregon at age 67.

Garcia, the father of ex-major leaguer Karim Garcia, won titles with the Mexico City Tigres in 1965, Jalisco in 1967 and Cordoba in 1972. He led the LMB with 185 hits and 44 doubles for Union Laguna in 1970, and his career totals of 63 triples and 206 stolen bases are among the best in Mexican League history.

Garcia had one of the biggest hits in Mexican baseball history, blasting a game-ending grand slam homer off knuckleballer Eddie Fisher in a come-from-behind 7-5 Tigres win over the Chicago White Sox on March 15, 1963 in front of 25,000 screaming fans in Mexico City.Garcia, who was born on July 27, 1942 in Michoacan, was buried last week in Sonora.

Son Karim, who is playing for Hermosillo in the Mexican Pacific League finals, was able to go ahead with his wedding last week before rejoining his teammates in Mazatlan Friday.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Playoff Results

SEMIFINAL ROUND
TUESDAY, January 12
Hermosillo 8, Culiacan 5
Vinny Castilla homered, tripled and had 2 RBIs and Jose Sandoval, Nelson Teilon and Luis Alfonso Cruz hit HRs for Hermosillo.
Mazatlan 4, Obregon 1
Jasiel Acosta won his second playoff game by holding Yaquis to 1 run and 2 hits over 6 innings for Venados.

WEDNESDAY, January 13
Hermosillo 4, Culiacan 2
Juan Delgadillo didn’t allow an earned run over 6.1 innings for Hermosillo as Jacob Cruz singled twice and drove in a run.
Mazatlan 7, Obregon 0
Reid Brignac had 2 hits with 3 RBIs and Jon Weber went 3-for-5 with a run as Mazatlan won second straight.

THURSDAY, January 14
No games scheduled

FRIDAY, January 15
Hermosillo 5, Culiacan 4
Luis Alfonso Garcia’s two-run single in the 9th keyed the win for Hermosillo, who got 3 hits from Nelson Teilon and Jesus Cota.
Obregon 4, Mazatlan 3
Michael Martinez jacked a 2-run homer and added a double for the Yaquis, who overcame a shaky start by Bobby Cramer.

SATURDAY, January 16
Hermosillo 3, Culiacan 1
Vinny Castilla hit his second homer of the series and Juan Pablo Oramas pitched 7 innings of 1-run ball for Naranjeros.
Mazatlan 5, Obregon 2
Walter Silva let in one run on 2 hits over 7 innings for Venados, who got a 2-run homer from Ruben Rivera..

SUNDAY, January 17
Mazatlan 6, Obregon 4 (12 innings)
Miguel Ojeda ended the game and series with a 2-run single in the bottom of the 12th. Victor Diaz poked a 3-run HR for Obregon.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE
League Championship Series schedule
FRIDAY, January 22: Mazatlan at Hermosillo
SATURDAY, January 23: Mazatlan at Hermosillo
SUNDAY, January 24: No game scheduled
MONDAY, January 25: Hermosillo at Mazatlan
TUESDAY, January 26: Hermosillo at Mazatlan
WEDNESDAY, January 27*: Hermosillo at Mazatlan
THURSDAY, January 28: No game scheduled
FRIDAY, January 29*: Mazatlan at Hermosillo
THURSDAY, January 30*: Mazatlan at Hermosillo
*If necessary

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #17): Puebla, Puebla

This week, our Road Trip takes us southeast from Mexico City on Highway 150D to Puebla, a city of 1.4 million people and capital of the state of the same name. Although Puebla is not high on the list of most tourist destinations, perhaps it should be.

This city was one of the most important in Mexico for centuries of Spanish colonialism as a staging area for cargo going between the capital in Mexico City and the nation's leading seaport in Veracruz after being founded by the Spaniards in 1531. Puebla has been the site of some important military skirmishes in the past, one of which included a fight on May 5, 1862 in which a motley and badly-outnumbered band of Mexicans courageously fought off attempts by well-armed French invaders to take Puebla. The Battle of Puebla is credited by many for giving Mexicans a sense of unity for the first time ever, and the subsequent celebrations across North America marking "Cinco de Mayo" over the years are often observed by millions of people who have no idea why it's so important.

Puebla is as quiet as Veracruz (our next Road Trip visit) is noisy. Colorful Talavera tiles are a major part of local architecture, which is very reflective of its colonial past with many ornately-decorated buildings marking Puebla's strong European influences. Many building were damaged during a strong earthquake in the late 1990's, but most have been restored to their former grandeur. Unlike many popular waterfront cities among tourists in Mexico, Puebla is landlocked in a valley surrounded by four volcanoes. This is a place for travelers interested in seeing a slice of Old Mexico in a classic setting.

Puebla is also one of the country’s many culinary arts centers and home of Mexico’s national dish, Mole Poblano, cooked turkey meat covered with a dark mole sauce consisting of a highly-addictive combination of chocolates, nuts, chilis and other spices.

Puebla is home to the Mexican League’s Pericos (or "Parrots"). The city has seen three Liga pennant-winners with the Pericos taking the title in 1963 and the old Angeles raising the flag in 1979 and 1986. The team plays at the 12,000-seat Estadio Hermanos Serdan. Puebla was 62-43 last year and defeated Yucatan in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Quintana Roo in the Southern Zone championship series.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#18): Veracruz, Veracruz

Saturday, January 16, 2010

MAZATLAN EDGES CULIACAN IN GAME 7, BOTH ADVANCE TO SEMIS

Little-used Lorenzo Buelna drove in Jon Weber with a walk-off single in the bottom of the tenth inning to give Mazatlan a 2-1 win over Culiacan in Game 7 of their Mexican Pacific League series at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal on January 10. While the Venados ended up winning the series, the Tomateros will join Mazatlan in the semifinals as the wild card team by virtue of winning three games in a losing first round effort.

Buelna, who hit .278 in just 72 at-bats for the Venados during the regular season, was 2-for-2 after entering the deciding game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning. With Weber at third base and John Lindsey on first, Buelna stroked a single to left field off reliever Arturo Barradas, who had intentionally walked Lindsey to pitch to Buelna.

Culiacan had tied the series at three games apiece with a 5-3 win on January 9. The Tomateros were trailing, 3-1, in the top of the seventh before Mike McCoy put the visitors ahead with a bases-loaded triple off reliever Jose Cobos. After Cobos was immediately yanked, Ramiro Pena singled in McCoy off Jose Luis Garcia.

Meanwhile, Hermosillo was putting the finishing touches on their 4-2 series win over Navojoa on January 9 with a 3-0 shutout over the Mayos in Hermosillo. Travis Blackley won his second playoff game with another superb effort, blanking Navojoa on one hit with seven strikeouts over eight innings. Humberto Cota scored one run and drove in another for the Naranjeros, who joined Mazatlan, Culiacan and Obregon in the semis. The Yaquis won their opening round series with Mexicali in five games.

VENADOS CONTINUE WINNING WAYS AGAINST OBREGON

Mazatlan stayed at home for the first two games of their semifinal series with Obregon, winning both contests.

Jon Weber (pictured) cracked an RBI double in a three-run third inning to aid the Venados’ 4-1 win over the Yaquis in the January 12 opener. Starter Jasiel Acosta went to 2-0 in the postseason by pitching six innings of two-hit, one-run ball. Luis Terrero’s homer scored the lone Yaquis run.

One night later, Mazatlan whitewashed Obregon, 7-0, as Pablo Ortega notched his second playoff win with seven innings of three-hit pitching. Reid Brignac had two hits and three RBIs for the Venados while Weber went 3-for-5.

The series shifted to Obregon for as many as three games there beginning January 15.

Friday, January 15, 2010

HERMOSILLO OPENS SEMI SERIES WITH TWO WINS OVER TOMATEROS

Hermosillo opened their Mex Pac Final Four series against Culiacan with an 8-5 victory over the Tomateros at home on January 12. Former MLB All-Star Vinny Castilla homered, tripled and drove in two runs to pace the Naranjeros, who also got roundtrippers from Luis Alfonso Garcia, Nelson Teilon and Jose Luis Sandoval. Luis Cruz homered twice for Culiacan.

In Game 2, Hermosillo starter Juan Delgadillo let in one unearned run on three hits over 6.1 innings, Garcia doubled twice and scored a run and Jacob Cruz posted two hits with an RBI to put the Naranjeros up, 2 games to 0, with a 4-2 win over Culiacan. Alex Sanchez singled twice, walked and drove in a run for the Tomateros.

The series moved to Culiacan for Game 3 on Friday, January 15.

CIBAO CLINCHES DOMINICAN FINAL BERTH

The Cibao Gigantes have clinched a slot in the Dominican League finals by registering an 11-5 record in the opening four-team, 36-game round robin playoff series.
With two games left in the first round, Cibao is three games ahead of 8-8 Escogido, defending champion Licey has a 7-9 mark, while Del Este is out of the running at 6-10.

Escogido won the regular season title with a 25-17 record, two games ahead of both Licey and Este. Cibao came in fourth at 23-21, but the Gigantes have turned it on in January to qualify for the Dominican Series.

Licey’s Timo Perez won the LiDom batting title with a .356 average while Cibao’s Juan Francisco led the league with 11 homers and 42 RBIs. Jose Capellan of Cibao had a great regular season, leading Dominican League pitchers with seven wins and a 2.15 ERA. His 41 strikeouts were one behind leader Ben Jukich of Cibaenas' 42 whiffs.

MAGALLENES ON TOP OF VENEZUELAN FIRST ROUND STANDINGS

The Magallenes Navegantes are in the driver’s seat of the Venezuelan League’s first round of playoffs with a 9-4 record in the five-team, 40-game round robin.

Hot on the Navegantes’ heels are the Caracas Leones, who are one game back at 8-5. La Guaira remains in contention at 7-5, but Margarita (who will host this year’s Serie Caribe) is 4-8 while Zulia is near elimination with a 3-9 record. Defending Caribbean Series champion Aragua did not qualify for the playoffs this winter.

Magallenes and Caracas tied for first place in the regular season at 41-22, nine games ahead of 32-21 La Guaira in third place. Alcedes Escobar of Lara hit .393 to win the batting title. Zulia’s Ernesto Mejia hit 14 homers, while Wilson Ramos of Aragua drove in 53 runs. Carlos Monasterios of Margarita led all pitchers with seven wins, Margarita’s Alberto Bastardo was tops in ERA at 2.77, and Zulia’s Josh Schmidt had the most strikeouts with 71.

ARECIBO TAKES FIRST PLACE HEADING INTO PUERTO RICO PLAYOFFS

The Arecibo Lobos have won the Puerto Rico Baseball League regular season championship. The Lobos finished at 25-14, four games ahead of 21-20 Carolina. Caguas was a half-game behind the Gigantes at 20-20, while Mayaguez snuck into the playoffs despite an 18-24 record because defending champion Ponce ended the winter at 15-27. The playoffs were slated to begin January 16 with Arecibo meeting Mayaguez and Carolina battling Caguas.

Arecibo will be led in the postseason by outfielder Michel Abreu and pitcher Lavale Speigner. Abreu led Puerto Rico batters with 12 homers and 42 RBIs, while Speigner topped league hurlers with seven wins and a 2.03 ERA. Carolina’s Armando Rios won the batting title with a .367 average. Caguas pitcher Orlando Roman was first on the table with 42 strikeouts.

A special draft of players on the Ponce roster among the four playoff teams was scheduled for Friday. Pitcher Juan Padilla, who went 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA for the Leones this season, was expected to draw the most interest.

NEW IBAF CHIEF WANTS WORLD CUP TO BE WBC QUALIFIER

The newly-installed president of the International Baseball Federation wants the IBAF’s World Cup tournament to serve as a qualifier for the next World Baseball Classic.

Italy’s Riccardo Fraccari, who was elected in December to replace Harvey Schiller of the USA as IBAF chief, says, “It is our duty to answer for member countries that qualification for the WBC can be handled by the IBAF.” The IBAF, which was formed in 1938, has 112 member countries, including all 16 nations in each of the first two WBC’s.


Major League Baseball has overseen the selection of WBC competitors in 2006 and 2009. The next WBC is set for 2013. Speaking in Cuba, Fraccari said, “We should discuss this with the majors. It isn’t decided yet, but I think we can expand on the issue.”

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Results (1-08-10 through 1-14-10)

FRIDAY, January 8
No games scheduled

SATURDAY, January 9
Culiacan 5, Mazatlan 3
Mike McCoy cracked a bases-loaded triple and Jose Mercedes tossed 6 innings of 2-run ball as Culiacan forced a Game 7.
Hermosillo 3, Navojoa 0
Travis Blackley won his second game of the playoffs, allowing 1 hit over 8 shutout innings to clinch the series for Hermosillo.

SUNDAY, January 10
Mazatlan 2, Culiacan 1 (10 innings)
Lorenzo Buelna’s walk-off single drove in Jon Weber with the series-ending run for Mazatlan. Weber was 5-for-5 with an RBI.


FIRST ROUND G W L PCT. RF RA +/-
Obregon Yaquis 5 4 1 .800 32 24 +8
Mexicali Aguilas 5 1 4 .200 24 32 -8

Hermosillo Naranjeros 6 4 2 .667 30 29 +1
Navojoa Mayos 6 2 4 .333 29 30 -1

Mazatlan Venados 7 4 3 .571 26 20 +6
Culiacan Tomateros 7 3 4 .429 20 26 -6

Culiacan earns wild card berth in semifinals


MONDAY, January 11
No games scheduled

TUESDAY, January 12
Hermosillo 8, Culiacan 5
Vinny Castilla homered, tripled and had 2 RBIs and Jose Sandoval, Nelson Teilon and Luis Alfonso Cruz hit HRs for Hermosillo.
Mazatlan 4, Obregon 1
Jasiel Acosta won his second playoff game by holding Yaquis to 1 run and 2 hits over 6 innings for Venados.

WEDNESDAY, January 13
Hermosillo 4, Culiacan 2
Juan Delgadillo didn’t allow an earned run over 6.1 innings for Hermosillo as Jacob Cruz singled twice and drove in a run.
Mazatlan 7, Obregon 0
Reid Brignac had 2 hits, 3 RBIs and scored a run and Jon Weber went 3-for-5 with a run as Mazatlan won second straight.

THURSDAY, January 14
No games scheduled


MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE
Remaining Semifinal Playoff Schedule
FRI, Jan. 15 Mazatlan at Obregon, Hermosillo at Culiacan
SAT, Jan. 16 Mazatlan at Obregon, Hermosillo at Culiacan
SUN, Jan. 17* Mazatlan at Obregon, Hermosillo at Culiacan
MON, Jan. 18 TRAVEL DAY
TUE, Jan. 19* Obregon at Mazatlan, Culiacan at Hermosillo
WED, Jan. 20* Obregon at Mazatlan, Culiacan at Hermosillo
*If necessary

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #16): Mexico City, D.F.

Originally called Tenochtitlan, Mexico City was the capital of the Aztec nation when it was found by Spanish conquistadores nearly 200 years after natives began building what became a beautiful city of 300,000 built on an island in the middle of a lake. When Cortes and his band of soldiers came upon Tenochtitlan after their 1519 arrival on Mexico’s east coast, they found a city that was easily equal in scope to almost any place in Europe at that time. Although Cortes’ soldiers were badly outnumbered, the Aztec emperor Moctezuma protected him because he thought the fair-skinned, bearded Cortez was the reincarnation of the god Cuetzalcoatl returning to fulfill ancient prophesies. Cortes repaid this hospitality by kidnapping the emperor, attacking a number of Aztec temples and placing Christian chapels alongside their altars. Eventually the natives rebelled, killing Moctezuma and driving Cortes’ forces from the city. It was a matter of time, however, before the Spaniards regrouped and finally took the city for good in August 1521.

Since then, Mexico City has evolved into one of the world’s leading urban areas, with over 25,000,000 residents. It is the capital of Mexico, as well as the nation’s business hub and media center. There are too many places worth visiting in Mexico City to list, but the “can’t miss” list includes the Palacio de Bellas Artes, one of the world’s most beautiful theaters; the Catedral Metropolitana, a massive yet ornate church that took 250 years to finish; the Bosque de Chapultepec park on the city’s west side featuring lakes, woods, lawns, a zoo, amusement park and museums; and the Palacio Nacional, a 17th century edifice housing the President’s office, the national archives, the federal treasury, and awesome courtyard murals painted by Mexico’s most famous artist, Diego Rivera, that give details of national history.

Mexico City is also a center of baseball in the country as home to both the Liga Mexicana offices and the Mexico City Diablo Rojos, who began in 1940. The Red Devils shared Mexico City for decades with the Tigres franchise before the latter moved away in the 1990s. Both teams played at the old Social Security Stadium, which has since been replaced by the modern 25,000-seat Foro Sol, Mexico’s second-largest ballpark. The Diablos have won 15 Mexican League pennants since 1956, most recently in 2008. There has not been a decade in which the team hasn’t won a flag since the 1950s.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#17): Puebla

Saturday, January 9, 2010

OBREGON KNOCKS OUT MEXICALI IN FIVE GAMES

It didn’t take long for Obregon to move into the semifinals of the Mexican Pacific League playoffs. The Yaquis split their first two games at home against Mexicali before taking three wins in a row on the road in the Eagles’ Nest to close out their series, four games to one.

Former big leaguer Dan Serafini was sharp for Mexicali in the opener, holding Obregon to two hits in eight innings as the Aguilas blanked the Yaquis, 6-0, on January 2. It was to be the only win for the borderites in the series as Obregon came back to outscore the league’s best-hitting team in the regular season by a 32-18 margin over the next four games to bounce the Aguilas from the playoffs.

After Flavio Romero drove in three runs in the Yaquis’ series-tying 9-5 win, Carlos Valencia hit a three-run homer in Game 3 to put the Yaquis ahead in the series, a five-run second inning in Game 4 keyed by homers from Victor Diaz and Iker Franco led to a 6-2 Obregon win, and Erubiel Durazo (pictured) conked a homer, scored three runs and drove in three to aid the Yaquis’ 14-9 clincher last Thursday.


By losing in five games, Mexicali is out as a contender for a wild card slot in the semis.

MAYOS WIN TWO STRAIGHT TO HOLD OFF OUSTER

After three games, it looked like all the Hermosillo Naranjeros had to do was show up to knock out Navojoa and move into the second round. Instead, the Mayos won two straight games to make a fight out of this series, which shifts back to Hermosillo this weekend.

Hermosillo won the opener at home by a 4-3 score as Humberto Cota (pictured) knocked out a two-run homer to support starter Edgar Gonzalez, then followed with a 3-2 win behind seven innings of one-run pitching by Travis Blackley. After the Naranjeros beat the Mayos, 12-7, in Navojoa as Cota smashed three homers, the regular season champs held a 3-0 series lead.

The Mayos clawed back with a pair of wins, bopping Hermosillo, 9-5, last Wednesday and taking an 8-3 win on Thursday. Amaury Cazana hit a grand slam in Game 4, while Raul Lopez knocked out a three-run bomb in Game 5. After scoring just five runs in the two games on the road, the normally light-hitting Mayos exploded for 24 runs in three games at home.

MAZATLAN-CULIACAN SERIES COMES DOWN TO THIS WEEKEND

After shutting out the potent Culiacan Tomateros the first two games at home, the Mazatlan Venados stumbled and lost two of three road games with their bitter rivals to the north.

Pablo Ortega went all the way in Mazatlan’s opening1-0 win January 2 as shortstop Heber Gomez scored the game’s only run. Esteban Loaiza then turned in seven innings of scoreless ball as the Venados whitewashed Culiacan, 3-0, the next evening.

The Tomateros rebounded to win twice in three tries in Culiacan. Arnold Leon took a no-hitter into the seventh inning as Culiacan held on for an 8-6 Game 3 win. Mazaltan came back to crunch the hosts, 10-2, last Wednesday as Christian Quintero collected four hits and three RBIs for the defending champs, but Culiacan closed the series gap Thursday night with a 4-1 victory as starter Hector Rodriguez (pictured) let in one run in seven innings while Mike Cervenak was 2-for-4 with a homer and two runs after signing a 2010 contract with the New York Mets last week.

Games 6 and 7 (if needed) are scheduled this weekend in Mazatlan.

TOMATEROS RELIEVER AYALA VICTIM OF HOME INVASION ROBBERY

It hasn’t been the best of times for reliever Luis Ayala the past several months. After being cut by the Minnesota Twins and going into a free agency winter after getting rocked while pitching for the Washington Nationals, Ayala joined the Culiacan Tomateros after signing a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Now Ayala and his family appear to have been the victims of a home invasion robbery after the pitcher returned home from two first-round playoff games in Mazatlan. According to police reports, Ayala had just arrived home early Monday, January 4 after a two-hour trip up the coast when at least 15 masked and heavily-armed men forced open a door to Ayala’s home and came in. Reportedly, neither Ayala nor anyone in his family were injured during the home invasion, but were handcuffed while the intruders searched the house for valuables. The invaders are said to have taken about seven thousand dollars in cash from Ayala, who was paid $1.3 million by the Twins and Nats last season.

Ayala was 1-5 with a 5.62 ERA in 38 MLB appearances last season, and has a 29-39 lifetime record in six major league seasons with a 3.67 ERA. He turns 32 on Tuesday, January 12.


Let’s hope his birthday party comes off without incident.

LMP PRESIDENT SEEKS 3-YEAR WINTER BAN FOR McDONALD, WATSON

Mexican Pacific League president Omar Canizales has requested a three-year ban from Caribbean winter baseball against former Hermosillo Tomateros players Darnell McDonald and Brandon Watson (pictured). Canizales recently filed his request with Caribbean Baseball Confederation president Juan Francisco Puello.

McDonald and Watson were both starting outfielders for Hermosillo when they left the team without notice three weeks into the current season. McDonald was second in the Mex Pac with a .378 batting average after 19 games at the time, adding six homers and 20 RBIs over that span. Watson was batting .276 for the Naranjeros, and was leading the league with eight stolen bases.

The two abandoned the team hours after a 4-3 win over Mexicali in which McDonald had belted a homer. At the time, according to Puro Beisbol, Hermosillo manager Homar Rojas said he was not told McDonald and Watson were leaving, but it’s since been rumored the two players were demanding extra performance-based bonuses prior to their departure.

Last year, the Confederation granted Canizales’ request for a three-year banishment from Caribbean baseball of current Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Casey McGehee, who left the Culiacan Tomateros without notice in 2008.

SANTIAGO WINS NOROESTE CROWN, BUSANI NAMED PLAYOFF MVP

The Mexican Northwest League pennant has been won by the surprising Santiago Tabaqueros, who defeated the regular season titleholder Tepic Diablos Rojos in five games in their best-4-of-7 championship series.

After finishing the regular season with a league-best 43-17 record, defending champion Tepic swept Compostela in three straight games to win their first round series. Santiago finished third with a 32-27 record in the regular season before upsetting 40-20 Tuxpan in a first round sweep. The Tobacconists won the finals, 4 games to 1, capping the season with a 5-4 home win over Tepic on January 5 when Franky Busani drove in the winning run with a single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The burly Busani was named the series MVP. The 6’4” 235-pound Busani batted .329 for Santiago during the regular season, and led the Liga Noroeste with 12 homers and 34 RBIs. The 23-year-old Sonora-born Busani, who grew up in Arizona and played collegiately in the United States, hit 39 homers with 144 RBIs in 401 at-bats over his last two seasons of college ball in 2008 and 2009.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Results (1-02-10 through 1-08-10)

FIRST ROUND SERIES UPDATE
Obregon defeated Mexicali, 4 games to 1
Hermosillo leads Navojoa, 3 games to 2
Mazatlan leads Culiacan, 3 games to 2
Mexicali has been eliminated from contention for wild card semifinal berth

SATURDAY, January 2
Mexicali 6, Obregon 0
Dan Serafini allowed just 2 hits over 8 shutout innings for Mexicali as Adam Rosales doubled twice, singled and drive in 2 runs.
Hermosillo 4, Navojoa 3
Humberto Cota belted a 2-run homer for Hermosillo and Edgar Gonzalez got the win by tossing 1-run ball over 7 innings.
Mazatlan 1, Culiacan 0
Pablo Ortega tossed a 6-hit shutout for the Venados, outdueling Hector Rodriguez. Heber Gomez had 2 hits and scored lone run.

SUNDAY, January 3
Obregon 9, Mexicali 5
Iker Franco had 3 hits and Flavio Romero had 3 RBIs to pace Obregon win. Adam Rosales collected 3 hits and 2 RBIs for Aguilas.
Hermosillo 3, Navojoa 2
Travis Blackley let in 1 run on 4 hits in 7 frames for Naranjeros while teammate Nelson Teilon had 2 hits and 2 RBIs.
Mazatlan 3, Culiacan 0
Former MLB star Esteban Loaiza turned in 7 solid innings as Venados won second straight shutout over potent Culiacan side.

MONDAY, January 4
No games scheduled

TUESDAY, January 5
Obregon 3, Mexicali 2
Carlos Valencia pounded a 3-run homer in the 8th for Yaquis, who got 2 scoreless innings from reliever Adrian Ramirez for win.
Hermosillo 12, Navojoa 7
Humberto Cota crushed 3 homers with 5 RBIs for Orangemen, who also got HRs from Nelson Teilon and Jose Luis Sandoval.
Culiacan 8, Mazatlan 6
Tomateros got offense untracked as Ramiro Pena had 3 hit, 3 RBIs and scored twice. Edgar Gonzalez homered for Mazatlan.

WEDNESDAY, January 6
Obregon 6, Mexicali 2
Victor Diaz and Iker Franco homered to key 5-run second inning for Obregon. Matt Camp homered in losing effort for Eagles.
Navojoa 9, Hermosillo 5
Mayos stayed alive thanks to Amaury Cazana’s grand slam, his second homer in two nights. Vinny Castilla homered for Hermosillo.
Mazatlan 10, Culiacan 2
Reid Brignac was 2-for-4 with double and 3 RBIs for Venados while Christian Quintero had 4 hits and scored 3 runs.

THURSDAY, January 7
Obregon 14, Mexicali 9
Erubiel Durazo homered, had 3 RBIs and scored 3 runs as Yaquis won series. Brad Snyder had 2 HRs and 6 RBIs for Mexicali.
Navojoa 8, Hermosillo 3
Raul Lopez clubbed 3-run homer and Amaury Cazano was 2-for-4 with a run and 2 ribbies as Navojoa won second straight.
Culiacan 4, Mazatlan 1
Hector Rodriguez let in 1 run in 7 innings while recent Mets signee Mike Cervenak had homer and 2 RBIs for Tomateros.

FRIDAY, January 8
No games schedule

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE
First Round Playoff Schedule
SAT, Jan. 9 Culiacan at Mazatlan, Navojoa at Hermosillo
SUN, Jan. 10* Culiacan at Mazatlan, Navojoa at Hermosillo
*If necessary

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #15): Saltillo, Coahuila

Saltillo is often lost in the shadow of nearby Monterrey, but people who prefer a less-industrialized northern Mexico city would probably like Saltillo better. The capital of the state of Coahuila, Saltillo was founded as a colonial city in 1575 and named after a nearby waterfall coming from a local spring. The city has received a number of nicknames over the years, including “The Athens of Mexico”, “The City of Ideal Climate”, and “The Land of the Sarape” (a distinctly Mexican clothing item that originated here and which Saltillo's baseball team is named after).

Founded by Spanish colonists, Saltillo is the oldest post-conquest settlement in northern Mexico. In 1591 the Spanish resettled a community of their Tlaxaltec allies in a separate nearby village in order to cultivate the land and aid colonization efforts that had stalled in the face of local hostility to the Spanish presence. In 1824, Saltillo was made the capital of the State of Coahuila and included the area which is now the US State of Texas until the Texas War and the founding of the independent Texas nation.

Besides serving as Coahuila’s capital city, Saltillo is also a major commercial and agricultural center. There are approximately 725,000 residents in the metropolitan area, which features a large number of buildings constructed of pink quarry and limestone. Among the better places to visit are the Saltillo Cathedral, considered one of the most beautiful baroque buildings in the country; the Nueva Tlaxacala Plaza, mixing Spanish and native Tlaxalteca culture into a unique esplanade behind the local government palace (which itself was built in 1808 and is the sit of a number of historic murals); and the gorgeous El Casino de Saltillo, a Greco-Roman style building with neo-classic details.

The Saraperos are one of the best-run franchises in the Mexican League, annually in the hunt for a Northern Zone title and among the Liga leaders in attendance. Saltillo’s baseball park, Parque Francisco I. Madero, is one of the LMB’s bigger venues with 14,000 seats. The Saraperos are the defending Mexican League champions after defeating Quintana Roo in the 2009 championship series. Saltillo is also considered the 1980 pennant winner, although that season ended early with a players strike and the formation of a player-run league that ran its own schedule after the LMB called off the rest of their schedule that year.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#16): Mexico City, Distrito Federal

Saturday, January 2, 2010

HERMOSILLO WINS SECOND HALF LMP FLAG, EARNS TOP SEED IN PLAYOFFS

Hermosillo turned in a 20-13 record to overtake Culiacan and hold off a hot Obregon team to win the Mexican Pacific League’s second-half title. The Naranjeros won six of their last ten games while the Tomateros won just four in the same period. The clock ran out on the Yaquis, who went 8-2 in their last ten contests (winning the final two games at Hermosillo) to finish tied for second with Culiacan at 19-13, a half-game out of first. The Tomateros were awarded second place after defeating Obregon in two of the three games played between the teams during the second half’s unbalanced schedule.

By picking up 8 points in winning the second-half crown, the Naranjeros won the overall points title with 14, ahead of first-half champion Mazatlan’s 12. Obregon is the third seed in the playoffs with 11 points, while Mexicali and Culiacan were tied with 10 points each (the Aguilas getting the nod for fourth by finishing 2.5 games ahead of the Tomateros in the overall standings). Navojoa and Guasave tied for the sixth and final playoff berth with 8.5 points apiece, but the Mayos reached the postseason after finishing 2 games up on Guasave. Los Mochis finished last in the points race with 7.5 and, like the Algodoneros, will miss the playoffs.

MEX PAC POSTSEASON BEGINS THIS WEEKEND

Hermosillo has to be considered the favorites in the Mex Pac postseason after finishing with a superb 21-12 road record. However, the Naranjeros were a mediocre 17-17 at home, where they open their first round series against Navojoa this weekend. Hermosillo defeated Navojoa six of nine times the two teams played during the regular season.

Defending champion Mazatlan was an LMP-best 24-10 at home, but lost their final four games to end a disappointing second half with a 15-18 record going into their first round set with rival Culiacan. The Venados won their season series against Culiacan, eight games to three.

Obregon gets home field advantage against Mexicali, and the red-hot Yaquis may be the team nobody wants to play in the postseason. The Aguilas beat Obregon six out of ten games this winter, but all six of those wins came in the first half.
All three best-of-7 series were scheduled to begin Saturday, January 2.

MADERA FINISHES AT .413 TO COP LMP BATTING TITLE

Although Los Mochis finished with the fewest points in the Mexican Pacific League, their first baseman provided the Caneros with at least one saving grace. Sandy Madera (pictured) ended up batting .413 over 60 games to win the LMP batting title for the season. Madera becomes the first .400 hitter in the Mex Pac since Hector Espino batted .415 for Hermosillo in 1971-72. Espino, who won 13 LMP batting titles between 1960 and 1981, also hit .402 for the Naranjeros in 1962-63. Madera hit 14 homers, finishing tied for second with Obregon’s Carlos Valencia behind the 23 of Hermosillo’s Luis Alfonso Garcia (who won his third home run crown in five winters). Valencia’s 63 RBIs topped the circuit.

Pablo Ortega of Mazatlan had a regular season to remember. Ortega led the Mex Pac in wins with an 8-2 record and ended on top of the ERA table at 2.43. Obregon’s Luis Mendoza was second in both wins and earned-run average by going 7-4 with a 2.89 ERA, respectively, and led the LMP with 79 strikeouts in 90 innings, 25 Ks ahead of Guasave’s Jim McGrane.

“E-GON” GOING TO PLAY FOR JAPAN’S YOMIURI GIANTS IN 2010

While San Diego fans and media have focused on whether Padres All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez will be traded out of town in 2010, big brother Edgar beat Adrian to the punch by signing a one-year free agent contract with Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League for the upcoming season. Edgar Gonzalez hit .216 in a part-time role for the Padres last year after batting .274 in 111 games as a 30-year-old rookie in 2008.

After playing no less than five defensive positions for San Diego in 2009, the elder Gonzalez will be a regular second baseman in Tokyo. “I had three offers from major league teams,” Edgar told Mazatlan newspaper Noroeste, “but in the end it was for the best to go to Japan where I can play every day.” Gonzalez becomes the fifth Mexican to play in Japan, following Jose Tolentino, Elmer Dessens, Narciso Elvira and Karim Garcia.

“The Giants will pay me more than the major leagues,” Gonzalez added, “and playing every day can create more opportunities to return to the majors.” The San Diego native hit .203 in 16 regular season games for Mazatlan this season.

TOMATEROS ADD JOSE MERCEDES FOR PLAYOFF RUN

The Culiacan Tomateros have solidified their starting rotation for the 2010 LMP playoffs by adding former major league pitcher Jose Mercedes to the roster. The 38-year-old righty had a 14-7 record for the Baltimore Orioles in 2000, and finished his major league career with a 33-39 record and 4.75 ERA after pitching for the O’s, Milwaukee and Montreal between 1994 and 2003. More recently, Mercedes has pitched summer ball for Puebla and Saltillo in the Mexican League, going 5-0 in nine starts with a 4.91 ERA for the champion Saraperos last season.

Mercedes had been pitching for the Licey Tigres in the Dominican League this winter, turning in a 2-1 record and 2.25 ERA in six games before getting permission to join Culiacan just prior to the end of the Mex Pac regular season. In his lone start for the Tomateros before they opened their playoff series with Mazatlan, Mercedes pitched four innings of 1-run, 3-hit ball in Navojoa on December 29 in a 1-0 loss to the Mayos.

Mercedes will fill out Culiacan manager Paquin Estrada’s starting rotation, along with Hector Rodriguez, Jorge Campillo, Rodrigo Lopez and Runelvys Hernandez. While Rodriguez is the only starter without major league experience, he is the only Tomateros pitcher with more than three wins. New York Yankees pitcher Alfredo Aceves had hoped to pitch for Culiacan in the playoffs, but was shut down by the Yanks after experiencing soreness in his lower back.

LIGA NOROESTE FINALS SET: IT’S TEPIC VERSUS SANTIAGO

The Mexican Northwest League (or Liga Noroeste) is down to its final two teams in their winter playoffs. The regular season champions Tepic Diablos Rojos are meeting the Santiago Tabaqueros in a best-of-7 series for the league title.

After finishing the regular season with a league-best 43-17 record, defending champion Tepic swept Compostela in three straight games to win their first round series. The Diablos lineup features LBN batting champion Eloy Gutierrez, who hit .388, but the linchpin to success for Tepic has been left-handed pitcher Juan Jose Flores. Flores, a native of Oaxaca who was once property of the Mexican League Guerreros, won the Noroeste’s pitching Triple Crown, with eight wins (and no losses), a 1.58 ERA and 54 strikeouts over the Diablos’ 60-game schedule.

Santiago finished third with a 32-27 record in the regular season before upsetting 40-20 Tuxpan in a first round sweep. The Tabaqueros are led offensively by former USA college player Franky Busani (pictured). Busani batted .329 for Santiago this winter, and led the Northwest League with 12 homers and 34 RBIs. The 6’4” 23-year-old hit .380 with 23 homers and 84 RBIs in 216 at-bats for Wayland Baptist University of Arkansas last spring after hitting .324 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs in 185 at-bats for New Mexico State in 2008. He was born in Sahuaripa, Sonora, but went to high school in Mesa, Arizona.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE 2009-10 Team Leaders

1} HERMOSILLO NARANJEROS (38-29/.567/1.5GB/14.0Pts)
BATTING LEADERS: AVG-Humberto Cota .313, R-Humberto Cota 42, HR-Luis A. Garcia 23*, RBI-Luis A. Garcia 58, SB-Brandon Watson 8, OPB-Humberto Cota .446, SLG-Luis A. Garcia .567
PITCHING LEADERS: W-Juan Delgadillo 6, L-Francisco Campos 6, SV-Dennis Sarfate 7, ERA-Juan Delgadillo 2.95, SO-Francisco Campos/Juan Oramos 42, BB-Juan Oramos 35*

2} MAZATLAN VENADOS (40-28/.588/0.0GB/12.5Pts)
BATTING LEADERS: AVG-John Lindsey .325, R-Ruben Rivera 45, HR-John Lindsey 11, RBI-Ruben Rivera 41, SB-Ruben Rivera 6, OBP-John Lindsey .411, SLG-John Lindsey .527
PITCHING LEADERS: W-Pablo Ortega 8*, L-Walter Silva 6, SV-Gabe De Hoyos 12*, ERA-Pablo Ortega 2.43*, SO-Pablo Ortega 35, BB-Marco Duarte 24

3} OBREGON YAQUIS (37-30/.552/2.5GB/11.0Pts)
BATTING LEADERS: AVG-Carlos Valencia .311, R-Flavio Romero 43, HR-Carlos Valencia 14, RBI-Carlos Valencia 63*, SB-Flavio Romero 12, OBP-Flavio Romero .404, SLG-Carlos Valencia .562.
PITCHING LEADERS: W-Luis Mendoza 7, L-Jesus Sanchez 6, SV-Hector Navarro 12*, ERA-Luis Mendoza 2.89, SO-Luis Mendoza 82*, BB- Jesus Sanchez 30

4} MEXICALI AGUILAS (34-34/.500/6.0GB/10.0Pts)
BATTING LEADERS: AVG-Brad Snyder .379, R-Adam Rosales 56*, HR-Emmanuel Valdez 12, RBI-Brad Snyder 48, SB-Brad Snyder 18, OBP-Brad Snyder .463, SLG-Brad Snyder .602
PITCHING LEADERS: W-Oscar Rivera/Enrique Quintanilla 4, L-Oscar Rivera/Enrique Quintanilla/Jeff Stevens 5, SV-Brian Schlitter 6, ERA-Oscar Rivera 4.90, SO-Oscar Rivera 46, BB-Oscar Rivera 35*

5} CULIACAN TOMATEROS (30-35/.462/8.5GB/10Pts)
BATTING LEADERS: AVG-Mike Cervenak .330, R-Mike McCoy 45, HR-Mike Cervenak/Jorge Vazquez 11, RBI-Mike Cervenak 48, SB-Mike McCoy 26*, OBP-Mike McCoy .413, SLG-Mike Cervenak .496
PITCHING LEADERS: W-Hector Rodriguez 4, L-Andres Meza 8*, SV-Jose Silva 9, ERA-Hector Rodriguez 2.39 (64IP), SO-Hector Rodriguez 47, BB-Hector Rodriguez 34

6} NAVOJOA MAYOS (32-36/.471/8.0GB/8.5Pts)
BATTING LEADERS: AVG-Matt Young .315, R-Matt Young 54, HR-Adan Munoz/Matt Young 8, RBI- Adan Munoz 46, SB-Matt Young 21, OBP-Matt Young .435, SLG-Matt Young .523
PITCHING LEADERS: W-Tim Gustafson/Javier Martinez 5, L-Alejandro Armenta 6, SV-Stephen Marek/ Brett Butts 5, ERA-Orlando Lara 3.90 (62.1IP), SO-Brian Adams 54, BB-Orlando Lara 28

7} GUASAVE ALGODONEROS (29-37/.439/10.0GB/8.5Pts)
BATTING LEADERS: AVG-Jose Rodriguez .280, R-Jose Rodriguez 42, HR-Japhet Amador/Jose Rodriguez 8, RBI-Jose Rodriguez 38, SB-Cristian Presichi 7, OBP-Francisco Mendez .357, SLG-Jose Rodriguez .451
PITCHING LEADERS: W-Francisco Cordova 7, L-Francisco Cordova/Jim McGrane/Robert Coello 4, ERA-Robert Coello 3.50 (64.1IP), SO-Jim McGrane 57, BB-Oscar Bustillos 33

8} LOS MOCHIS CANEROS (28-39/.418/11.5GB/7.5Pts)
BATTING LEADERS: AVG-Sandy Madera .413*, R-Sandy Madera 47, HR-Sandy Madera 14, RBI-Saul Soto 42, SB-Coby Smith 5, OBP-Sandy Madera .492*, SLG-Sandy Madera .654*
PITCHING LEADERS: W-Jorge Vasquez 5, L-Juan Pena/Ismael Castillo 4, SV- Jorge Vasquez 8, ERA-Ismael Castillo 5.95 (59IP), SO-Juan Pena 34, BB-Victor Santos 25

NOTE: Hitters need 3.1 plate appearances per LMP game to qualify for batting title; Pitchers need 1 IP per LMP game to qualify for ERA title.
* Led League

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Results (12-25-09 through 12-30-09)

FRIDAY, December 25
Mazatlan 12, Mexicali 3
Miguel Ojeda blasted a grand slam and drove in a season-high 5 runs while John Lindsey had 3 hits and 3 runs for the Venados.

SATURDAY, December 26
Mazatlan 2, Mexicali 0
Venados starter Jasiel Acosta scattered 3 hits and a walk over 6 innings in the shutout as Heber Gomez contributed a 2-run single.
Hermosillo 3, Culiacan 0
Juan Delgadillo tossed 7 strong innings for the Naranjeros. Luis Alfonso Garcia and Chris Roberson added homers for the winners.
Navojoa 4, Los Mochis 3
Reid Gorecki slashed a bases-loaded, 3-run double and later scored on Francisco Arias’ groundout to lead the Mayos victory.

SUNDAY, December 27
Mexicali 3, Mazatlan 1
Eagles starter Dan Serafini posted 5.2 shutout innings and Emmanuel Valdez scored 2 times to snap a 4-game loss streak.
Obregon 4, Guasave 2
Carlos Valencia whacked a bases-loaded triple and Victor Diaz added a pair of hits as the Yaquis won their fifth in a row.

MONDAY, December 28
Hermosillo 4, Obregon 3
Vinny Castilla hit 2 doubles and scored twice for the Naranjeros as fellow MLB vet Edgar Gonzalez let in 2 runs over 5 innings.
Culiacan 6, Navojoa 5
Luis Cruz had 3 hits, scored 2 runs and drove in a counter for the Tomateros, who also got a 2-run single from Jesus Cota.
Mexicali 12, Los Mochis 2
Matt Camp tripled, singled, scored 3 times and drove in 2 more runs while Oswaldo Morejon had 4 RBIs for Mexicali.
Mazatlan at Guasave postponed

TUESDAY, December 29
Obregon 15, Hermosillo 6
Erubiel Durazo cracked a 3-run homer and a solo shot while Agustin Murillo homered, scored 3 runs and had 4 RBIs for Obregon.
Navojoa 1, Culiacan 0
Orlando Lara outdueled Culiacan’s Jose Mercedes, scattering 4 hits over 8 innings in the Mayos’ shutout win.
Los Mochis 8, Mexicali 6
Sebastian Valle hit homer for the Caneros. Mexicali’s Adam Rosales stroked a 2-run double.
Guasave 2, Mazatlan 1 (first game)
Jim McGrane allowed just 1 run on 4 hits with 7 strikeouts as Japhet Amador homered to lead the Cottoneers’ win.
Guasave 1, Mazatlan 0 (second game)
Jose Rodriguez’ RBI double in the 3rd inning plated the game’s only run as Francisco Cordova pitched 5.1 innings in the shutout.

WEDNESDAY, December 30
Obregon 4, Hermosillo 3
Erubiel Durazo hit his 4th homer in 3 games for Obregon, who scored all their runs in the 3rd inning.
Navojoa 3, Culiacan 1
Francisco Felix tossed 5 shutout innings in his first start after 31 relief appearances for the Tomateros.
Los Mochis 6, Mexicali 3
Edgar Quintero homered and Carlos Orrantia drove in 2 runs for Caneros, who got 3 scoreless innings from starter Alberto Castillo.
Guasave 9, Mazatlan 1
Oscar Bustillos pitched 5 shutout innings while Mario Valenzuela and Japhet Amador both homered and had 3 RBIs for Guasave.


MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
JAN. 2-3 Navojoa at Hermosillo, Culiacan at Mazatlan, Mexicali at Obregon
JAN. 5-7* Hermosillo at Navojoa, Mazatlan at Culiacan, Obregon at Mexicali
JAN. 9-10* Navojoa at Hermosillo, Culiacan at Mazatlan, Mexicali at Obregon
*Games played on January 7, 9 and 10 if necessary.

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #14): Monterrey, Nuevo Leon

Our Mexican baseball road trip takes us away from the U.S. border for the final time as we leave Reynosa westbound on Highway 40D until we reach Monterrey, the capital of the state of Nuevo Leon, the leading city in northern Mexico and the industrial center of the nation. Monterrey was founded in 1596 by Diego de Montemayor, but it wasn’t until after the War of Independence in the 1820’s that it started blossoming as in important business center. Present-day Monterrey is home to nearly four million residents, and is Mexico’s third-largest city behind Mexico City and Guadalajara.

While many visitors will not be impressed by the factories, traffic and smog they’ll encounter here, Monterrey’s city center is actually quite pleasant, with a combination of colonial elegance and modern architecture and statues. The heart of Monterrey, many say, lies in the Plaza Zaragosa (also known as the “Macroplaza”), which was created by the demolition of six complete city blocks in downtown Monterrey. The crown jewel of the Macroplaza is the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, or MARCO, a museum that is considered a “don’t-miss” experience for art lovers visiting Monterrey. While not as beautiful on an overall basis as some of the more colonial cities in Mexico’s south, Monterrey has much to offer those willing to look past the industrial congestion that creates the city’s wealth.

Home to three past Little League World Series champions, Monterrey is also perhaps the center of Mexican baseball. It is home of the Salon de la Fama, the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, which is located at the Cuauhtemoc Brewery grounds. The Salon was built in 1971.
Also in the area is the Mexican Baseball Academy, where all 16 LMB teams share funding for the 100 young domestic athletes hoping to develop into pro ballplayers. The complex consists of 56 dorm rooms, four baseball fields, four batting cages, a computer room, a weight room, an infirmary and a plaza where players can congregate. The Academia runs an eight-team rookie league during the winter, and its players are subject to an annual Liga draft of young talent.

The Monterrey Sultanes are one of the Mexican League’s flagship franchises, and have won nine Liga championships since their founding in 1939 (although the team failed to reach the playoffs in 2009 just two years after winning their last pennant). The Sultanes are usually near the top of the LMB in attendance, playing home games in Mexico’s largest ballpark, the 27,000-seat Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey. It is the only ballpark in Mexico to have hosted Major League Baseball regular season games (in 1996 and 1999), and there was an attempt to bring the Montreal Expos to Monterrey before they were finally moved to Washington, D.C. in 2005.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#15): Saltillo, Coahuila