Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Caneros win 6-5 thriller in 11, take MexPac title series lead

Veteran Saul Soto punched a two-run single in top of the eleventh inning and MLB free agent reliever Sergio Romo survived a shaky bottom of the frame as the Los Mochis Caneros held off the Mexicali Aguilas, 6-5, in the border city to take a 2-games-to-1 lead in the Mexican Pacific League championship series Tuesday night.

Los Mochis 6-15-1, MEXICALI 5-9-0

Chris Roberson opened the scoring in the bottom of the first for Mexicali by reaching second after tapping a leadoff bunt and drawing a hurried throw by Mochis pitcher Roy Merritt that sailed past Soto at first for an error, then scoring when Yuniesky Betancourt lined a single to center.  That's where the score stood halfwway through the seventh inning as Merritt and Aguilas starter Kameron Loe both contributed strong starts.  After throwing 104 pitches, Loe gave way to reliever Jose Meraz in the top of the seventh.

Meraz was the first of four Mexicali pitchers to see duty in that inning alone, as the Caneros scored four runs to take the lead.  Meraz got the first out before allowing a double to Eugenio Velez, after which Aguilas manager Roberto Vizcarra replaced him with Jose Manuel Lopez.  Isaac Rodriguez greeted Lopez with a single that moved Velez to third, followed by an RBI single that drove in Velez with the go-ahead run.  Lopez was yanked for Fautino de los Santos, who drilled J.C. Linares in the left arm on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Linares had to be replaced by pinch-runner Sergio Garcia.  Leandro Castro then topped a dribbler back to the mound for an infield single that plated Rodriguez.  Unnerved, de los Santos then threw a wild pitch to Soto, which resulted in Ford crossing the plate with another Caneros run.  Soto went on to draw a walk, enough for Vizcarra to emerge from the dugout to wave in Manuel Chavez with the bases still loaded and only one out. Chavez got the final two outs, the first coming on a Yosmany Guerra sacrifice fly to right that brought in Garcia to make it a 4-1 Los Mochis lead.

That's where the score stood as Merritt put in one more inning on the hill for the Caneros before skipper Luis Sojo replaced him with Oliver Perez in the bottom of the eighth.  Perez immediately found trouble by giving up a leadoff single to Jon Del Campo and walking Ramon Rios.  After striking out Roberson for the first out, Perez allowed a Bourgeois triple to center, bringing in both Del Campo and Rios to close the Aguilas deficit to a one run.  Sojo then called in reliever Isaac Rodriguez, who got the second out before C.J. Retherford lined a double to left that scored Bourgeois with the tying run. Luis Juarez then hit an inning-ending flyout to Velez in left.

Neither team scored in the ninth to send the game into extra innings, followed by a scoreless tenth.  The eventful eleventh opened with Edgar Osuna on the hill for Mexicali after usual closer Jake Sanchez gave the Aguilas two scoreless frames.  Rodriguez (the second baseman, not the reliever) laid down a bunt in front of the plate and beat Osuna's throw to first for a single.  After a Ford bunt moved Rodriguez to second, Sergio Garcia toppled a first-pitch comebacker to the mound for the second out as Rodriguez stayed put on second. Osuna intentionally walked Castro to set up a force play at all three bases, but that strategy was scuttled when Soto rapped a full-count offering into left field to score both Rodriguez and Castro to give the visitors a 6-4 lead.  Guerra grounded out to Retherford at first to end the frame for Mochis.

Romo then emerged from the bullpen to replace Santago Gutierrez, who'd tossed two perfect innings for Mochis.  Things didn't start off well for the three-time World Series champ, as he allowed a leadoff single to Betancourt, threw a wild pitch to Retherford to advance Bentacourt to second and then coughed up a Retherford line-drive single to left that brought Betancourt in with the Aguilas' fifth run.  Sergio settled down after that, retiring Agustin Murillo on a line drive to Velez and inducing pinch-hitter Emmanuel Avila into a groundout to second to end the game with Mochis the victors by a 6-5 count.

Gutierrez got the win for the Caneros to go to 2-0 in the postseason and Romo recorded his seventh playoff save while Osuna was tagged with the loss to even his playoff record at 1-1.  Merritt allowed one run on four hits with five strikeouts for Mochis in another strong outing for the Southern University product, while the 6'8" Loe (a former Texas Rangers starter) scattered seven hits and struck out eight Caneros batters in his six innings of shoutout pitching for Mexicali.  Six Caneros batsmen recorded two hits each in the Caneros' 15-hit attack as Soto's pair of singles raised his playoff batting average to .340. Retherford, Murillo and Betancourt each had two hits for the Aguilas, with the latter's postseason average going up to .347 via his two safeties.

A crowd of 17,000 packed the stands at Mexicali's Estadio B'Air, which will be the site of Game Five Wednesday night at 7:30PM PST (0330 UTC).  Luids Niebla will get the start for the Caneros while Javier Solano takes the mound for the Aguilas.