Monday, February 6, 2017

Mexicali blanked 4-0 by Banos, Cubans; CS semis set for Monday

Vladimir Banos came within one out of a complete game shutout and Granma scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning as the Cuban National Series champions closed out the round robin stage of the Caribbean Series with a 4-0 win over the Mexican Pacific League champion Mexicali Aguilas Sunday night in Culiacan.  A sellout crowd of 19,177 (the fourth full house in five nights at Estadio Tomateros) saw Mexico's nine-game CS winning streak come to an end, although the Aguilas finished tied with both Granma and Venezuelan champs Zulia at the top of the first round stadings at 3-1 apiece.  Caguas of Puerto Rico will be the fourth team in Monday's semifinals with a 1-3 record while Dominican titlist Licey is done at 0-4.

GRANMA (CU) Alazanes 4-11-0, Mexicali Aguilas 0-6-0

As was the case in Mexicali's first three games at the Serie del Caribe, the Aguilas benefitted from a strong pitching start.  This time, it was last winter's MexPac Pitcher of the Year, Javier Solano, who matched Banos zero for zero through the first four innings of the contest.  After Banos held up his end of the scoreless pitcher's duel in the top of the fifth, the bottom of the fifth proved costly for the Mexican righty.

Solano had two outs with Roel Santos standing at second and Yunior Paumier on first when he threw the wrong pitch to Cuba's veteran superstar Alfredo Despaigne, who sent Solano's second pitch into the left field bleachers for a three-run homer.  The next Alazanes batter, William Saavedra, required four Solano deliveries to send another ball sailing over the left field wall for a solo homer to give Granma a 4-0 lead.  For Mexicali, that was pretty much all she wrote as Banos had settled down after a sometimes-rocky start and carried the shutout into the top of the ninth, when (after inducing Jason Bourgeois into a groundout), Betancourt (pictured above) lined a single to right, C.J. Retherford flew out to left and Ronnier Mustelier  singled sharply to right.  At that point, Granma manager Carlos Marti brought in Jose Angel Garcia for Banos, who'd thrown 123 pitches to 32 Aguilas batters.  Garcia got Yordanys Linares to pop out to Alazanes third baseman Paumier in foul territory to end the game, vaulting the Cubans into the three-way tie for first place.

Four players each had two of Granma's 11 hits: Santos, Cespedes, Guillermo Aviles and Carlos Benitez.  Betancourt was the only multiple-hit batsman for Mexcali with two singles.  Banos got the win for his 8.2 innings of work, in which he scattered six hits and walked two while striking out five.  Solano absorbed the loss for Mexicali, whose three relievers (Jose Meraz, Edgar Gomez and Jose Manuel Lopez) allowed no runs on two hits over the final 3.1 innings.  With the potent Aguilas batting order silenced, it was all for naught.

ZULIA (VZ) Aguilas 4-7-2, Licey (DR) Tigres 3-8-0

Ronny Cedeno's RBI double and Rene Reyes' two-run homer in consecutive at-bats in the bottom of the eighth gave Venezuela's Zulia Aguilas a 4-3 comeback win over Dominican champions Licey Sunday afternoon to open Day Five of the Caribbean Series in Culiacan.  Zulia finished the first round with a 3-1 record while Licey ended the CS winless in four tries and out of the running.

Licey starter Ariel Pena and Zulia's Raul Rivero carried a dual shutout into the top of the fourth, when the Dominican Tigres scored a pair of runs on an Alfredo Marte single to center that brought Ronny Rodriguez home, while an errant throw to the plate on the play from Aguilas centerfielder Helris Rodriguez allowed Mel Rojas Jr. to come around from first to score.

Jose Castillo's leadoff homer in the bottom of the fifth put Zulia on the board, but the Liceylead went back up to two in the top of the sixth when Ronny Rodriguez manufactured a run for the Tigres by getting on base when Zulia third baseman Cedeno had trouble fielding his leadoff grounder, took second when Zoilo Almonte singled off Rivero (who was then pulled for Yorman Bazardo). stole third as Bazardo was striking out Rojas and scored on Alfredo Marte's groundout to short to make it a 3-1 Zulia advantage.  The score stayed put until the bottom of the eighth, when Cedeno's two-out double scored Herlis Rodriguez and Reyes' bomb to left (both off Juan Grullon) put the Venezuelans ahead for good.  Former Phillies prospect and Mexican League reliever Francisco Butto retired Licey without a hit in the top of the ninth to close out the win and collect the save.

Another former Liga hurler, Brazilian Tiago Da Silva, got the win for the Aguilas by tossing a scoreless eightth before Cedeno and Reyes took over while Grullon took the loss for Licey, whose ten past CS titles are the most among all teams.  This time, the Dominicans head home without a win while Zulia advances to the Final Four and a game Monday afternoon at 1:00pm MST (2000 UTC) against Caguas.  In the Final Four nightcap, Mexicali takes on Granma at 5:00pm MST (0000).

Caribbean Series standings
3-1  Granma (CU) Alazanes
3-1  Mexicali (MX) Aguilas
3-1  Zulia (VZ) Aguilas
1-3  Caguas (PR) Criollos
0-4  Licey (DR) Tigres

Monday's Semifinals schedule
Caguas (PR) at Zulia (VZ), 1:00pm MST (2000 UTC)
Granma (CU) at Mexicali (MX), 5:00pm MST (0000 UTC)