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