Monday, March 28, 2016

Astros, Padres split Mexico City Series; Valencia wins HR Derby

Major League Baseball held its first exhibition games in Mexico City since 2004 over the weekend, with the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres splitting two games at Estadio Fray Nano on Saturday and Sunday.

Festivities kicked off Friday with a home run derby won by Tijuana Toros second baseman Carlos Valencia at a makeshift diamond built on the city's Zocalo (pictured above), Mexico's largest public square and a ceremonial spot dating to the Aztec dynasty prior to the arrival of Hernan Cortez and the Spanish Conquistadores.

Valencia beat out Mexico City Diablos Rojos outfielder Ivan Terrazas and Quintana Roo Tigres teammates Jorge Cantu and Esteban Quiroz for the title.  In the first round, Cantu led all four batsmen with 10 homers, followed by Valencia at 8, Quiroz with 7 and 5 for Terrazas.  Hitting into a headwind in the final round, Valencia jumped out to an early lead over Cantu before the former MLB infielder started finding his groove, albeit a little too late as Valencia finished with 15 dingers to Cantu's 7.

Also on Friday, a clinic for young Mexican ballplayers was held, with former major league third baseman Vinny Castilla joined by ex-pitchers Esteban Loaiza and Ismael Valdez addressing the assembled youths. Oh, and they played a little baseball over the weekend, too.

On Saturday, Houston bombed San Diego, 11-1, behind the strong pitching of Chris Devenski.  An Astros farmhand ticket to start the season at Class AAA Fresno, tossed 4.1 shutout innings and struck out seven Padres batsmen.  The 2015 National League Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa, joined with Tyler White to open the fourth inning with back-to-back solo homers to give Houston a 2-0 lead.  The Astros put two more scores on the board in the bottom of the sixth before pounding Padres pitching for seven runs in the seventh to put the game away as 5,602 onlookers watched at Estadio Fray Nano.  Mexican product Leo Heras went 2-for-3 for Houston, scoring once and driving in two more runs.

Saturday's contest was a pitcher's duel in comparison to what happened Sunday as San Diego roared back to cop a 21-6 victory in front of 6,143 fanaticos at Fray Nano.  This one was pretty much over after the first inning, with the Padres converting three-run homers by Jabari Blash and Jon Jay plus a two-run longball by Adam Rosales into a nine-run outburst.  The Friars got subsequent homers from Travis Jankowski and Casey McElroy in the blowout.  All the San Diego scoring would have obscured the work of Padres starting pitcher Cesar Vargas had he not been a native of Puebla, 85 miles south of Mexico City.  Vargas went three shutout innings and struck out five Houston hitters to earn the win.  Colin Moran went deep for the Astros, but this game belonged to the Padres from the get-go.

As good a weekend as it was for baseball fans in the capital city, it was at least as good for ticket resellers.  Ducats for the two games were originally priced at up to 1,800 pesos (US$103 at the current exchange rate), but scalpers outside Fray Nano (pictured right) were getting 3,500 pesos (US$206) for some tickets while being unbothered by law enforcement or stadium security officers.