Thursday, January 19, 2017

Culiacan, Hermosillo win; Game Seven semis set for Thursday

Both Culiacan and Hermsosillo had to win road games Wednesday to stay alive in their respective Mexican Pacific League semifinal series.  The Tomateros and Naranjeros responded to the "Win-or-go-home" challenges by copping victories to extend each set to a seventh and deciding game Thursday night.  Ramiro Pena's three-run homer highlighted a six-run outburst in the sixth inning, propelling Culiacan to a 9-2 triumph in Los Mochis as a standing-room crowd of 11,192 watched at Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada.  Hermosillo likewise won big, 7-2, in Mexicali as Dodgers farmhand O'Koyea Dickson (pictured) walloped two homers in front of a full house of 17,000 at the Aguilas' Estadio B'Air.

Thursday's Game Sevens in Los Mochis and Mexicali will both get underway at 7:30PM Mountain Time.

Culiacan 9-13-1, LOS MOCHIS 2-5-0

As seems his wont, Hector Daniel Rodriguez has brought his "A" game to the postseason for Culiacan.  The Tomateros' homegrown lefty went 4-6 with a 3.50 ERA in 13 starts during the regular season, a subpar winter for him.  Since the playoffs began, however, the 32-year-old lefty has kicked into overdrive and the result is a 4-0 record with a 2.52 ERA, including Wednesday's 9-2 win at Los Mochis.  Rodriguez allowed one run while scattering five hits in six innings for the Tomateros, striking out nine Caneros batsmen and walking two.  Sixty of his 93 pitches went for strikes before leaving the game with a 6-1 lead.  Rodriguez has earned a reputation as a big game pitcher, winning the MVP award at last winter's Caribbean Series as a reinforcement pickup of the champion Mazatlan Venados.

The contest was competitive for the first few innings.  Culiacan drew first blood by scoring a run on a Joey Meneses sacrifice fly to center in the top of the second that brought in Ronnier Mustelier.  Mochis tied it up at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth when vet Saul Soto doubled in Leandro Castro from first.  One of the ageless wonders of Mexican baseball, the 38-year-old Soto is hitting .343 in the playoffs while, like Rodriguez, playing for his hometown team.  Culiacan broke the tie with two runs in the fifth as Caneros starter Luis Niebla self-destructed by giving up two hits, walking two more batters and hitting a batter before he was mercifully lifted for Isaaac Jimenez, who got Issmael Salas to fly out with the bases loaded to keep the floodgates from opening.  That happened in the sixth, when six more Culiacan runners crossed the plate to make it 8-1.  Pena's three-run bomb was the deepest cut as eleven Tomateros strode to the plate against four Mochis pitchers.  From that point it was acamedic, although the Caneros did score one final run in the seventh.

Mustelier finished the night with three hits, two runs scored and one driven in for Culiacan, who also got two hits each from longtimers Jose Manuel Rodriguez and Oscar Robles.  Niebla took the loss for Mochis, although special mention should be given to reliever Lenix Osuna, who faced five batters and allowed four runs (including Pena's blasted) without retiring a batter.  Onetime Red Sox minor leaguer J.C. Linares had two of the Caneros' five hits, including a double, while throwing out Culiacan's Ryan Lollis at the plate from center field to end the third inning.

Hermosillo 7-12-0, MEXICALI 2-12-2

Dickson had a huge game at the plate for the Naranjeros, going 3-for-4 with two homers, four RBIs and a pair of runs to pace Hermosillo's must-win 7-2 road triumph at La Nida in Mexicali.  It was a forgettable night for both starting pitchers, with Travis Blackley of Hermosillo and Mexicali's Hector Velazquez combining to cough up 15 hits and six runs over eight innings between them.  It was left to unsung Jose Samayoa to relieve Blackley and hold the fort until the Orangemen offense found its bearings.

The Naranjeros got on the board in the top of the first via a two-out Dickson solo homer off Velazquez to left. Xorge Carrillo scored on a force out in the second to pull Mexicali even.  Hermosillo responded by adding a run in the third when Jason Bourgeois came in on a Dickson groundout, but the Eagles came back again to knot the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the third as Luis Juarez doubled off Blackley and then scored on an Agustin Murrillo single up the middle.  Hermosillo effectively put the game away with two runs in the fifth on Dickson's second homer (with Carlos Gasteul on base) and two more in the sixth when a Bourgeois single and an error by Naranjeros centerfielder Chris Roberson plated Sergio Burruel and Jorge Flores to make it a 6-2 tilt.  Hermosillo added a final run in the ninth, but it was superfluous by then.

Blackley struggled into the fourth frame, when he was relieved by Samayoa with two on and one out.  It took two pitches for Samayoa to get Ramon Rios to ground to third for a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.  Samayoa, a Hermosillo product who spent time in the Rangers system, got the win after throwing four innings of shutout ball, giving up three hits and two walks while striking out two.  Velazaquez took the loss for the Aguilas as the Pitcher of the Year candidate's playoff miseries continued, giving up four runs on seven hits and two free passes to see his postseason ERA rise to 8.38.  Rafael Martin got his fifth save in January for the Naranjeros.  Besides Dickson, the Hermosillo bats were also led by Gastelum's two hits and two runs plus Bourgeois' two hits, a run and RBI. Yordanys Linares (no relation to Mochis' J.C., although both are Cubans) went 4-for-4 for Mexicali, but neither scored nor drove in a run.