Tuesday, August 10, 2010

MEXICAN LEAGUE PLAYOFFS: August 10, 2010

SALTILLO SCORES TWICE IN NINTH TO TIP PUEBLA, 6-5, IN CHAMPIONSHIP OPENER

2010 Mexican League batting champion Willis Otanez made his first appearance of the playoffs for Puebla Tuesday night, but it’ll go down as a game he’d probably rather forget. Pinch-hitting for Valentin Gamez (who is hitting .340 in the postseason, including two hits in this game), the former major leaguer popped out to second base with two Pericos on base in the eighth, then committed a throwing error in the ninth that allowed Saltillo to score the game-tying run. The defending Liga champion Saraperos tallied one more time and held on for a 6-5 win in Game One of the Mexican League’s Bicentennial Series as 10,389 fans looked on in Puebla’s Estadio Hermanos Serdan.

It would be unfair to place goat horns on Otanez, however, as Saltillo’s win was as much a product of opportunistic hitting and a bullpen that put on an effective performance in the wake of a mediocre outing by starter Jose Mercedes. The Saraperos outhit the Pericos by a 12-8 margin, although Puebla did rock Mercedes for three homers, two of them coming in the fourth.
Saltillo opened the game by scoring a run in the top of the first, as Jose Rodriguez sliced a double to left field and eventually came in to score on a Gabriel Martinez groundout. The Saraperos took a 2-0 advantage in the second when Christian Presichi singled, moved to third on a Jesus Cota double and scored from third on Jonathan Aceves sacrifice fly.

Puebla brought out the long ball to get back into the game, however, as Rene Reyes led off the bottom of the second with a homer off Mercedes to right. The Pericos tied the game at 2-2 in the third the old-fashioned way when Gamez singled, took second on an Ivan Cervantes sacrifice bunt, moved to third on a Serafin Rodriguez groundout to second and crossed the plate on a Luis Suarez single.

The home team grabbed the lead in the fourth on Cesar Tapia’s one-out home run to left, then added two more when (with two out) Gamez singled sharply off the glove of Mercedes, who promptly served up a two-run gopher ball to Cervantes to give Puebla a 5-2 lead. Mercedes settled down and lasted into the seventh inning, when he was replaced by Thomas Melgarejo with two down.

For their part, Saltillo was unable to put another run across against Pericos starter Omar Espinoza until the seventh, when a Willie Romero triple was followed by a Rodriguez homer to bring the Saraperos to within one run. After a scoreless eighth, things fell apart for Puebla in the top of the ninth.

Romero led off the frame by singling against LMB saves leader Luis Ramirez, who then walked Rodriguez to move Romero into scoring position. After Martinez went down swinging for the first out, Refugio Cervantes hit a grounder to Otanez at first, who threw to Miguel Torrero at third to force out Romero. The throw sailed past Torrero, though, and Romero rounded third and scored the tying run while Rodriguez moved from first to third and Cervantes advanced to second on the overthrow. Ramirez then walked the dangerous Noe Munoz (.370 playoff average) to load the bases for the equally-danferous Presichi (.351 postseason). Presichi lofted a 1-1 pitch to Reyes in center field for the second out, but Rodriguez beat the throw home for the go-ahead run (pictured). Jesus Cota then whiffed to end the scoring.
It came down to Mario Mendoza, Jr. on the mound to preserve the lead for Saltillo, and the son of the Salon de la Fama shortstop responded by retiring the side in order to earn the save and seal the win.

Romero finished with a 3-for-5 night and two runs for the Saraperos while Rodriguez added two hits, two RBIs and scored three times, including the deciding run. Eight of Puebla’s nine starters in the batting order had at least one hit, but only Gamez had two safeties before being pulled for Otanez. Cecilio Garibaldi, who came up huge for Saltillo in Sunday’s LMB North title-clincing game against Monterrey, got the win for Saltillo while Ramirez took the loss for the Pericos.

Game Two of the championship series is set for Wednesday night in Puebla before the series shifts north to Saltillo beginning Friday.