Sunday, January 29, 2017

Betancourt, Mexicali win, 13-1, to clinch pennant, CS berth

The Mexicali Aguilas overcame an early 1-0 deficit by scoring two runs in the top of the third inning and went on to pull away from the Los Mochis Caneros, 13-1, in Game Six of the Mexican Pacific League championship series Saturday to clinch the LMP pennant and a berth in the Caribbean Series. Former big leaguer Yuniesky Betancourt (pictured) drove in six runs as Mexicali starter Hector Velazquez benefitted from all the support for the win, although the LMP Pitcher of the Year certainly helped himself with six innings of sterling mound work.

Mexicali 13-16-0, LOS MOCHIS 1-7-0

The Caneros scored the game's first run in the bottom of the second when Eugenio Velez walked, stole second and came home when Sebastian Valle singled to right off Velazquez.  Mexicali came right back with a pair of runs in the third frame, starting with Yordanys Linares' first-pitch leadoff homer off Mochis starter Manny Barreda over the right field wall to tie the game.  One out later, Ramon Ruiz walked, moved to second on Chris Roberson's bunt single, took third on Valle's passed ball as Barreda was pitching to Jason Bourgeois and, after Bourgeois drew a walk to load the bases, hit paydirt on Betancourt's sacrifice fly to center field to put the visitors ahead.

With Velazquez working effectively against the Caneros lineup, Mexicali widened the gap by scoring in six consecutive innings.  The Eagles put a third run on the board in the fourth when Agustin Murillo scored from third on Rios' groundout to second, but it was the top of the fifth that took whatever wind remained out of Los Mochis' sails with three more runs to chase Barreda and open up a 6-1 advantage.

After Bourgeois led off with a groundout to third, Betancourt poked a single up the middle.  C.J. Retherford lined out to Caneros shortstop Yosmany Guerra for the second out and it looked like Mochis and Barreda would get out of the inning unscathed.  However, Luis Juarez singled to center and Murillo walked to fill the sacks, bringing manager Luis Sojo out of the Caneros dugout with his hook, waving in Jesus Verduzco from the bullpen to face Linares.  During that encounter, Verduzco uncorked a wild pitch that scored Betancourt from third, then gave up a single to Linares that brought in both Juarez and Murillo, the latter beating Leandro Castro's throw to the plate from center field.  That would be all for Verduzco and, for all intent and purposes, Los Mochis' chances to even the series and force a Game Seven on Sunday.

With Jon Sintes now pitching for the host team, Rios and Roberson led off the top of the sixth with back-to-back singles through the box.  Bourgeois grounded to first baseman Saul Soto, who threw to Guerra covering second to force Roberson as Rios scooted to third while Bourgeois beat Guerra's double-play relay to first, putting runners at the corners with one out.  Betancourt then lofted a sacrifice fly to right that brought in Rios with Mexicali's seventh run of the night, followed by a Retherford single to left that advanced Bourgeois to second.  Sojo emerged from the Mochis dugout once more, this time signalling for Guillermo Trujillo to pitch to Juarez.  Once more the strategy backfired, as Juarez redirected Trujillo's first pitch through the gap into left field to score the speedy Bourgeois, making it an 8-1 Aguilas lead.

If any doubt about the game's eventual outcome still remained, it was shattered by yet another Mexicali rally in the seventh that netted the visitors four more scores to bring the count to 12-1.  Linares opened the inning with a walk before being replaced by pinch-runner Missael German.  Xorge Carrillo singled German over to third, followed by a Rios pop fly out to second.  Sojo trudged from the Los Mochis dugout to bring in one more reliever, this time handing the ball to former Dodgers minor leaguer Thomas Melgarejo, and one more time the move failed as Melgarejo's first pitch plunked Roberson to load the bases.  Exit Melgarejo, enter Lenix Osuna, who retired Bourgeois on a pop-up to Soto in foul territory before serving up a grand slam homer to Betancourt. Mexicali added one more tally in the eighth when Murillo led off with a single, went to third on a German double and scored on a Carrillo sacrifice fly.  There was no more scoring in the game after that but it was hardly necessary as many of the 11,386 fans in a jampacked Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada had already headed for their homes in Los Mochis by then.

Velazquez was sharp in his six innings on the hill for Mexicali, earning the win to go to 3-1 in the postseason by allowing one run on four hits and two walks, striking out four.  Barreda was tagged with the defeat for Los Mochis after being roughed up for six runs on as six hits and four walks in 4.2 frames.  If misery loves company, Barreda had a full house as Sojo ended up bringing in seven relievers from the fifth inning on, searching in vain for one who could stop the bleeding.  Seven Mochis batters had one hit apiece (with J.C. Linares' double the lone extra-base hit).  Roberson and Linares each had three hits in the game, with the latter driving in three, but the night belonged to Betancourt, who went 2-for-4  with six ribbies.  The former nine-year MLB shortstop starred as a reinforcement for Mazatlan in last winter's Caribbean Series win but did not play last summer.  The rest appears to have agreed with him, with Betancourt finishing the MexPac playoffs with a .349 batting average.

With their first pennant since 1998-99 (with current Mexicali skipper Roberto Vizcarra's father-in-law Francisco "Paquin" Estrada at the helm), the Aguilas will head 125 miles down the road from Los Mochis to Culiacan for the Caribbean Series, where they'll play their first game Wednesday night against Puerto Rico's Caguas Criollos.  The Aguilas won the Serie del Caribe in 1986 under manager Ben "Cananea" Reyes.