Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Toros stay alive; Serie del Rey moves to Tijuana

Roberto Lopez had a sub-.200 playoff batting average entering Monday night's Mexican League Championship Series Game Five in Puebla, but the Tijuana first baseman broke out of his slump in a big way to lead the Toros to a 9-2 win over the Pericos, staying alive in the Serie del Rey and sending the series back to the border city for Game Six on Wednesday.  The Toros trailed 2-1 before pushing eight runs across the plate in the top of the ninth, silencing the packed stands at Estadio Hermanos Serdan.

Lopez (pictured) cracked a double and homer in the ninth inning to the plate for the Toros, driving in three runs and scoring twice as Tijuana shaved Puebla's series lead to 3-games-to-2.  The Pericos had won the first two of three games played in Puebla, all before sellout crowds of 12,112.

Starting pitchers Horacio Ramirez of Tijuana and Orlando Lara of Puebla traded zeros until the top of the third inning, when Roberto Lopez crashed a solo homer to center off Lara to give the visitors a 1-0 nod.  The score stood until the bottom of the fifth, when Willy Taveras slashed a triple off Ramirez and later came in on Daric Barton's two-out single up the middle to tie things up for the host team.  The Pericos took the lead one frame later when Ruben Rivera led off the sixth with a single, moved to second on a groundout and scored on Rudy Amador's seeing-eye single into center to give Puebla a 2-1 advantage.

The score held until the crazy top of the ninth, during which the visitors sent twelve batters to the plate and put those eight runs on the scoreboard.  Dustin Martin, who's having a Playoff MVP-worthy finals for Tijuana, led off the inning against Puebla closer Chad Gaudin with a triple past a diving Nyjer Morgan in left field  Martin scored on third baseman Amador's throwing error on a Carlos Valencia grounder to knot the game at 2-2 and the Toros eventually filled the bases for Lopez, whose two-run double broke the deadlock for good.  Gaudin registered his first out of the inning when the sixth batter faced, Miguel Torrero, grounded out to second.  After Gaudin got Jose Guadalupe Chavez to ground into a fielder's choice out as Puebla shortstop Alberto Carreon threw Alex Romero out at the plate for the second out, the bottom really fell out for the eleven-year MLB vet.

Throwing to pinch-hitter Emmanuel Valdez, Gaudin uncorked a wild pitch that brought Lopez rumbling in from third to make it a 5-2 Toros lead, then let up a Valdez double to center that scored Chavez.  Puebla skipper Cory Snyder deduced that Gaudin maybe just didn't have it after eight batsmen and four runs and brought in Benny Suarez.  It only took nine pitches and consecutive walks to Olmo Rosario and Martin for Snyder to figure that Suarez might not have it either, calling in Julio Felix from the bullpen to face Edson Garcia, who'd pinch-run earlier and stayed in the game defensively in center field.  While working on Garcia, Felix unleashed a wild pitch of his own to move Valdez in from third to bring the score to 7-2.  Garcia then drilled a liner into right to bring in Rosario and Martin, making it a 9-2 TJ  lead before Valencia mercifully ended the onslaught by grounding out to second.  It was then left to Toros closer Jason Urquidez to post a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth against the shell-shocked Puebla batsmen to end the game and send the Serie del Rey back to Estadio Gasmart.

Urquidez pitched the last 2.1 innings, allowing no hits and whiffing three Pericos for the win.  Gaudin was tagged with both a blown save and the loss for Puebla.  Both teams put up eleven hits on the night, with Chavez and Lopez each contributing two hits for Tijuana while Taveras and Amador split six hits for Puebla, five of them singles.  Lara scattered seven hits but let in just one run over 6.2 innings for the Pericos; Ramirez lasted into the sixth and had a tougher time, coughing up all 11 hits and both Puebla runs but five relievers (including Urquidez) allowed no hits or runs the rest of the way.  The game was delayed by rain for over an hour, stretching the contest past 12:30am local time.

After a travel day Tuesday, the two teams will convene Wednesday night in Tijuana at 10:30pm ET.  Game Seven, if needed, would be played Thursday, after which many players won't have time to either celebrate or drown their sorrows.  Training camps in the Mexican Pacific League are already opening for the coming winterball season...another reason to love baseball in Mexico.

Tijuana 9-11-1, PUEBLA 2-11-2 (Puebla leads series, 3 games to 2)
W-Urquidez (1-0). L-Gaudin (0-1). HR-Lopez (R). T-3:30. A-12,112.