Monday, May 31, 2010

HERAS NAMED MVP AS LMB NORTH ALL-STARS BEATS SOUTH, 4-3

Reynosa’s Leo Heras’ RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Zona Madero team a 4-3 lead they would never relinquish as the Northerners beat the southern Zona Hidalgo by that score in the 78th annual Mexican League All-Star Game last Tuesday in front of a full house at Chihuahua’s 14,500-seat Estadio Monumental.

The Broncos’ centerfielder came to the plate with the score tied 3-3 after Saul Soto of Monclova singled and moved to second on a groundout by Reynosa’s Domingo Castro. Heras then lined a single off Yucatan’s Jose Vargas to bring in Soto with what ended up as the game-winning run. For his pinch-hitting effort, Heras (who is batting .316 for Reynosa) was named the All-Star MVP by media members attending the contest. “It’s my honor,” Heras said following the game. “I’m very happy. It’s very important for my career, very significant.”

Other notable figures in the game included Mexico City shortstop Jose Luis Sandoval and Campeche pitcher Francisco Campos. Sandoval extended his record by appearing in his 19th All-Star Game for the North, while Campos extended his own milestone with a record seventh start for the South.

The 37-year-old Campos began his professional career as a catcher in Houston’s minor league system in 1991, hitting just .141 for the Astros’ Gulf Coast League team over 21 games, but converted to pitching prior to the 1995 season for Campeche and became a starter for the Piratas one year later. While the Guaymas native spent subsequent stints pitching for the Brewers and White Sox AAA affiliates, the man called “Pancho Ponches” has become a mound mainstay in the Mexican League with over 140 career wins and multiple strikeout titles.

CERVANTES OUTLASTS AMADOR FOR HOME RUN DERBY TITLE

One day before the All-Star Game, Saltillo’s Refugio “Cuco” Cervantes defeated Mexico City’s Japhet Amador, 5-4, in the final round to win the 2010 Home Run Derby in Chihuahua. Cervantes and Amador (the Liga’s co-Rookie of the Year for 2009) beat out six other sluggers to reach the final round.

After the event, an exhausted Cervantes told the press, “I’m very happy. I put out all the desire and this was the result.” Cervantes added that getting rhythm into your swing is crucial for this kind of competition. The Saltillo first baseman has 11 homers in 64 regular season games while Amador has rung up eight dingers for the Diablos Rojos.

Just before the Home Run Derby began, Puebla slugger Willis Otanez (the defending Derby champion and one of the first round contestants this year) led a tribute to the late pitcher Jose Lima, a fellow Dominican who died recently at the age of 37 from a massive heart attack. Lima, who won 21 games for Houston in 1999, pitched for Saltillo in 2007, going 13-4 with a 3.40 ERA.

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: VERACRUZ FIRES MANAGER MESA

While there have been no managerial changes in the major leagues this season (yet), the carousel has been getting a good workout south of the border. The latest firing occurred last Thursday when the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila cut skipper Victor Mesa loose and replaced him with Bernardo “Bernie” Tatis.

Hopes were high for the 2010 season in Veracruz under Mesa, a flamboyant star in Cuban baseball during his playing days who led all batters in the 1992 Olympics with a .516 average and winning a gold medal in the process. However, Mesa’s past success as a player did not translate to wins for the Red Eagles, who finished 14 games behind Puebla in the Zona Hidalgo first-half standings with a 24-29 record. Veracruz was off to a 3-6 start to the second half when the tap on the shoulder came.

Tatis was a renowned speedster during his playing career, stealing over 800 bases in summer ball between 1981 and 1999. He played seven years in the Liga, batting .298 with 221 steals over 718 games (mostly for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos). Veracruz marks Tatis’ ninth Liga managerial stop.
Six Mexican League managers have now been fired since the season opened March 16.

Monday, May 24, 2010

ALL-STAR GAME SET FOR TUESDAY IN CHIHUAHUA

The 78th Mexican League All-Star Game will be played tomorrow night at Chihuahua’s Estadio Monumental. The 14,500-seat facility was completed in 2004 at an estimated cost of $65 million and has served as home of the LMB’s Chihuahua Dorados since 2007.

Several former major leaguers will take part in the game, which pits the northern Zona Madero against the southern Zona Hidalgo in the only game between the two divisions until the League Championship Series in August. For the host Zona Madero, defending champion Saltillo will send six players, including second baseman Jose Rodriguez, outfielder Jesus Cota and designated hitter Refugio Cervantes as well as Saraperos manager Orlando Sanchez (who will direct the team from the dugout). Among the ex-big leaguers will be catcher Geronimo Gil, pitcher David Cortes, second baseman Oscar Robles (all from Mexico City), pitcher Nerio Rodriguez of Monclova, Chihuahua outfielder Jacob Cruz and Dorados pitcher Mac Suzuki. One curious omission from the Nortenos team is Reynosa first baseman Sandy Madera, the 2009-10 Mexican Pacific League batting champion who is currently tied for third with Oaxaca's Jaime Brena in the Liga tables with a .386 average.

The Zona Hidalgo squad will be managed by Mexican baseball legend Matias Carrillo, skipper of the Quintana Roo Tigres. Carrillo will be joined by four of his Tigres players: catcher Iker Franco, second baseman Carlos Gastelum, outfielder Sergio Contreras and pitcher Scott Chiasson (last year’s Reliever of the Year in the Liga). MLB alumni on the Zona Hidalgo roster include Chiasson, Puebla first baseman Willis Otanez, Campeche outfielder Ruben Rivera and Veracruz outfielder Victor Diaz. Among the missing is another ex-MLBer, Oaxaca shortstop Jolbert Cabrera, whose .385 batting average for the Guerreros (fifth in the Liga) has come in just 37 games since his arrival three weeks into the season. Each team will suit up 33 players, including 14 pitchers apiece.

Last year at Parque Beto Avila in Cancun, Zona Norte defeated Zona Sur, 13-3, as six different northern players hit home runs to set an All-Star Game record (Carlos Valencia of Mexico City swatted two longballs and was named All-Star MVP).

LMB HOME RUN DERBY TO BE HELD TONIGHT

A Home Run Derby will be held tonight as part of All-Star FanFest activities in Chihuahua. Zona Madero will be represented by Japhet Amador of Mexico City, Refugio Cervantes of Saltillo, Monterrey’s Luis Alfonso Garcia and Francisco Mendez of Chihuahua. Zona Hidalgo will send Puebla’s Otanez, Campeche’s Rivera, Diaz of Veracruz and Tabasco’s Michel Abreu. A native Cuban and a former Eastern League batting champion, Abreu was named the Puerto Rico Baseball League’s MVP last winter.

Otanez, a former Toronto Blue Jays infielder, is the reigning Home Run Derby champion. Last year in Cancun, he held off Reynosa’s Marshall McDougall in the final round, 6 to 5. In three rounds, Otanez finished with 29 roundtrippers, six more than McDougall’s 23.

Other FanFest events Monday will include fireworks, live music and an appearance by the Chicas Tecate (pictured) from Cuauhtemoc Breweries.

VAQUEROS FIRE MANAGER DEREK BRYANT

“But what have you done for us lately?”

Last Thursday, the Laguna Vaqueros fired manager Derek Bryant, who led the team to their first playoff berth in five years and a slot in the Northern Zone finals against eventual champion Saltillo. Things have not gone as smoothly in 2010, as the Cowboys finished sixth in the Zona Madero with a 25-28 record for the first half and were 0-3 in the second half at the time of Bryant’s firing. Third base coach Adulfo Camacho will manage Laguna on an interim basis.

A former Oakland A’s outfielder, Bryant will be inducted into the Salon de la Fama next month after batting a resounding .355 with 141 homers for the Mexico City Tigres, Tampico and Monterrey from 1982 through 1988, averaging .34 homers, 107 RBIs and hitting .380 between 1984 and 1986.

Monday, May 17, 2010

MONTERREY HOLDS OFF SALTILLO FOR FIRST HALF NORTH CROWN

Although Monterrey won only two games last week, that was enough to give the Sultanes a 32-21 record and a two-game lead over the 30-23 Saltillo Saraperos at the end of first half play in the Mexican League’s Zona Madero, good for eight points in the season-long battle for a playoff berth in August.

The Sultanes have been led offensively by outfielder Luis Alfonso Garcia, who’s batting .366 and leads the Liga with 15 homers, 60 RBIs and a .710 slugging percentage. Monterrey’s 4.16 ERA is tops among teams in the LMB North. Veteran right-hander Jonathan Castellanos tossed six shutout innings in a 3-0 win at Monclova Saturday to raise his record to 5-1 while lowering his league-leading ERA to 2.37. Castellanos has not lost a game since mid-March.

Saltillo won seven of their last ten games to pull past Mexico City into second place in the LMB North to earn seven first-half points in the bargain. First baseman Sandy Madera is fourth in the Liga with a .392 batting average to lead a balanced attack, and reliever Esteban Hernandez has gone 6-0 in 26 appearances out of the bullpen to lead the team in wins.

Elsewhere in the Zona Madero, Mexico City faded into a third-place tie with streaking Reynosa, who has won five of their past six games. Both teams ended the first half a game behind Saltillo at 29-24. Surprising Chihuahua scored 38 runs in two consecutive games last week en route to finishing the first half in fifth place in the LMB North at 28-25, two games out of second place. Laguna (25-28), Nuevo Laredo (20-33) and Monclova (19-34) all finished below .500. Nuevo Laredo has hit just 14 homers in their first 53 games.

PERICOS GET BATS BACK ON TRACK TO WIN LMB SOUTH FIRST HALF TITLE

After an embarrassing series in Veracruz in which they were shut out three consecutive times, the potent Puebla Pericos woke up to score 58 runs while winning five of six home games last week to clinch the Zona Hidalgo’s first half title. The Parrots scored 35 runs during a sweep of Yucatan before notching 23 more tallies against Quintana Roo, with only a 9-8 Friday loss to the Tigres blemishing their week.

Puebla finished 37-15 to cruise to the first half crown in the LMB South by 7.5 games over second-place Oaxaca. Pitcher Omar Espinoza (pictured) is 7-2 to tie Oaxaca’s Sergio Valenzuela for the LMB lead in wins. The Los Mochis native won his seventh game last Wednesday against Yucatan despite allowing five runs in six innings, which gives a hint as to how the Pericos have been winning games this year. After getting just one hit in that three-game whitewashing in Veracruz, first baseman Willis Otanez went on a 15-of-25 tear last week (including a 4-hit game against Quintana Roo) to build his league-leading batting average back up to .427. As a team, Puebla leads the LMB tables with a .337 average as seven of the Liga’s 16 clubs are north of the .300 mark.

Oaxaca finished the first half with a 30-22 record, a half-game ahead of 29-22 Quintana Roo. The Guerreros have benefited from Valenzuela’s pitching, obviously, while newcomer Jolbert Cabrera has fit like a glove by batting .393 (third in the Liga behind Otanez and Puebla’s Luis Suarez’ .395 mark). The Tigres have also been led by an ex-MLB player on offense as Jose Fernandez has hit .377 and crashed 13 homers in 45 games. Yucatan took fourth in the LMB South with a 28-25 mark, but the Leones’ pitching (traditionally among the best in the circuit) has been uncharacteristically weak with just a 5.22 ERA, eleventh in the Liga.
Among other Zona Hidalgo teams, Veracruz was 24-29 in the first half. The Rojos Aguilas have been sort of an all-or-nothing team, standing second in the LMB with 51 homers but ranking last in batting (.255) and runs scored (431). Tabasco (22-31) and Campeche (21-31) had poor first halves, although the Olmecas won eight of their last ten games, while Minatitlan (17-34) was just plain dreadful.

KOREAN TEAM RELEASES P EDGAR GONZALEZ

There is now just one Edgar Gonzalez playing pro ball in Asia. One of them, the former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher, was released last week by the LG Twins of the Korea Baseball Organization after going 0-6 with a 7.68 ERA in nine starts (although his last start was decent enough as he allowed two runs in six innings of work). He had reportedly signed with LG for over $200,000 in the offseason.

The other Edgar Gonzalez, an ex-San Diego Padres infielder (pictured), has had his own struggles with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Central League, batting .221 with one homer in 24 games as a part-timer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

PERICOS BLANKED THREE STRAIGHT TIMES IN VERACRUZ

It was a very strange week for the Mexican League’s Zona Hidalgo-leading Puebla Pericos. After scoring 39 runs in a three-game home sweep of the Minatitan Petroleros between Tuesday and Thursday, the Parrots traveled to Veracruz and failed to score a single run as they lost three straight to the Rojos Aguilas.

Veracruz opened the set Friday night with a 7-0 win over Puebla as minor league veteran Philip Barzilla and reliever Jesus Duenas combined on a four-hitter. Rain washed out Saturday’s game, leading to a Sunday sweep for the Aguilas in a pair of seven-inning games. Rafael Cruz went to 3-0 on the season in his first game since March 24 by giving up three hits over five innings in the opening 3-0 whitewashing before Abraham Elvira also allowed three hits in five frames in Veracruz’ 4-0 nightcap victory as Puebla star Willis Otanez was tossed in the fourth inning after arguing a called third strike by home plate umpire Rafael Calderon. Otanez, who leads the LMB with a .402 average, had just one hit over the three games and struck out four times. Veracruz right fielder Victor Diaz was 4-for-8 in the series with two doubles and a homer.

Despite their embarrassment in Veracruz, the LMB South is still Puebla’s to lose. The Pericos enter the final week of the first half with a 32-13 record, 4.5 games ahead of the surging Oaxaca Guerreros, who’ve obviously put their ballpark problems behind them by winning nine of their last eleven games (including six in a row) to leapfrog past Yucatan into second place with a 28-18 mark. The Leones are third at 27-20.

Oaxaca pitcher Sergio Valenzuela (pictured), a newcomer from Monclova who was suspended for 50 games in 2009 after he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, is making the most of his second chance. The former Braves farmhand has won six of seven games to tie Puebla’s Omar Espinoza for the league lead in wins while his 2.79 ERA is seventh in the circuit.

GUTIERREZ WHACKS THREE HOMERS IN REYNOSA WIN OVER SALTILLO

If the Saltillo Saraperos are due any deference from opposing players, nobody told Jesse Gutierrez. The Reynosa third baseman showed the defending Mexican League champions no respect last Friday night, blasting three homers and driving in all eight runs during the Broncos’ 8-0 win in Reynosa.

Gutierrez bludgeoned Saltillo starter Efrain Navares with a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the first to put Reynosa up 4-0, then sent a solo shot off Navares over the left field wall in the fourth to stretch the Broncos lead to 5-0. After singling off Saltillo reliever Fernando Villalobos in the sixth, Gutierrez launched his third bomb of the night (all to left field) with two runners on base in the seventh to close the scoring for Reynosa as Broncos starter Alejandro Astorga combined with two relievers on a one-hitter.

The Broncos went on to defeat the Saraperos, two games to one, over the weekend to inch to within one game of third-place Guadalajara and Saltillo in the Zona Madero standings. Monterrey leads the LMB North with a 30-17 record despite dropping two of three weekend games at home against Mexico City. The Diablos Rojos are two games out of first at 28-19, followed by Saltillo and Guadalajara at 25-22, while Reynosa holds fifth with a 24-23 mark.

DURAZO LET GO BY YAQUIS, LIKELY TO SPEND NEXT WINTER IN MEXICALI

Former Major League first baseman Erubiel Durazo will not be tendered an offer to return to the Obregon Yaquis next winter despite hitting .356 with nine homers in 32 games for the Mexican Pacific League team last season. Durazo began last year on the Mexicali roster before he was loaned to the Yaquis for relief pitcher Hugo Castellanos, who went 3-1 with a 2.56 ERA in 38 appearances as a middle reliever for the Aguilas. Castellanos is now pitching for Monterrey, where he’s 1-3 and 3.75 in 25 games out of the pen.

Fernando Ballasteros of Puro Beisbol says Durazo is likely to return to Mexicali next winter. Durazo, who hit .281 with 94 homers in seven big league seasons between 1999 and 2005 (including a .321 average with 22 homers and 88 RBIs for Oakland in 2004), now resides in Chandler, Arizona and oversees a successful livestock business, according to Ballasteros.

The Hermosillo native, who attended Pima Community College in Tucson before turning pro, hit .364 for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series but was traded to Oakland prior to the 2003 season. Injuries eventually curtailed Durazo’s MLB career after the 2005 campaign, although he’s since attended spring training with Oakland and Texas while playing AAA ball in the Rangers, Yankees and Twins organizations.

The 6’3” 240-pound left-handed batter spent part of last summer with the Monterrey Sultanes, batting .245 with no homers in 14 games. Durazo was one of a number of players ruled ineligible to play in the Mexican League this year because he did not sign a contract prior to a preseason deadline.

Monday, May 3, 2010

MADERA, GARCIA CARRYING OVER HOT WINTER SEASONS

Sandy Madera and Luis Alfonso Garcia (pictured)were arguably the two hottest hitters during last winter’s Mexican Pacific League season. Madera batted .413 to lead the LMP, 34 points ahead of Mexicali’s Brad Snyder, while Garcia led the Mex Pac with 23 homers for Hermosillo en route to being voted the MVP by the LMP’s team presidents. Both Madera and Garcia are thus far showing in Mexican League play that their respective winter performances were not flukes.

Madera has gone 20-for-40 over his past ten games for Saltillo to overtake Puebla’s Willis Otanez for the Liga lead with a .431 batting average. The right-handed first baseman is especially wearing out right-handed pitchers, hitting .466 against starboard siders. Although Garcia went homerless for Monterrey last week, the 6’4” Guadalajara native tops the Mexican League with 13 roundtrippers and 46 RBIs over 39 games while carrying a .359 batting average.

Garcia is one of the main reasons Monterrey has taken over first place in the LMB North with a 26-15 record, one game ahead of 25-16 Mexico City. Chihuahua has cooled off a bit, splitting their last ten games and beginning this week in third place with a 23-18 mark. In the LMB South, Puebla continues to cruise toward a first-half title with a 29-10 record. Otanez and his Pericos teammates have won 15 of 20 games on the road, by far the best in the Liga. Yucatan is six games back in second at 24-17, while Oaxaca survived a tumultuous week to hang on to third place with a 22-18 ledger.

GUERREROS TO REMAIN IN OAXACA

At this time last week, the Oaxaca Guerreros were on the clock to resolve a ballpark dispute at the risk of either being forced to move to another city or lose their Mexican League franchise altogether. A dispute between the Universidad Autonoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca and the Union of Academics of the University of Oaxaca led to union workers blocking access for fans and teams to the university-owned Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos for a scheduled April 22 game between the Guerreros and Minatitlan, which was postponed. Oaxaca’s home series with Veracruz early last week was shifted north to the port city while negotiations continued.

A strike was averted when the two sides reached agreement on wage increases early last week and the university’s 25,000 students have returned to class. Now that their season has likely been saved, the Guerreros hosted Puebla in an incident-free series over the weekend while a series scheduled to be played in Veracruz this week has been shifted to Oaxaca.

The Mexican League office has said next to nothing about the resolution of Oaxaca’s ballpark crisis, referring only to “causes of greater force” in a press release announcing the shift of the Guerreros-Aguilas series this week from Veracruz to Oaxaca.

PETROS BRING IN HALL OF FAMER SOMMERS AS MANAGER

The Minatitlan Petroleros fired Miguel Cazarin as manager last weekend, replacing him with Salon de la Fama infielder Jesus “El Guapo” Sommers. The Oilers were 14-24 and in sixth place in the LMB South when Cazarin was let go after a 7-3 home loss to Veracruz on Friday, but won their first two games under Sommers on Saturday and Sunday heading into Monday’s travel day.

The 60-year-old native of Guaymas, Sonora was enshrined in Monterrey in 2002 after a 27-year playing career that ended with an LMB-record 3,004 hits and 488 doubles. Sommers hit .291 over 2,908 games for 13 teams (!) between 1970 and 1996, topping the .300 mark nine times. He also spent 25 winters playing for eight teams in the Mexican Pacific League, where Sommers stands seventh on the all-time list with 1,073 hits and fourth with 175 doubles. He is the son of former Negro League player Lonnie Sommers.

PADS STAR MAY SIT OUT PHOENIX ALL-STAR GAME IN 2011, CALLS FOR SPRING BOYCOTT

San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez says that if he’s chosen for next year’s All-Star Game in Phoenix, he may refuse to play in response to last week’s signing of a controversial immigration law in Arizona. Gonzalez, a Mexican-American who grew up in both Tijuana and the San Diego area, has played in the past two All-Star Games. He told AOL Fanhouse, “If they leave it up to the players and the law is still there, I’ll probably not play in the All-Star Game because it’s a discriminating law.”

Gonzales added that he’d like to see major league teams boycott Arizona for spring training. “I know it can’t be done,” he said, “ but they should take spring training out of there if it’s possible.”