Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mexicali nips Cubans, 1-0, reach CS final vs. Caguas

Miguel Pena (pictured) built a shutout over the first five innings and Hector Daniel Rodriguez carried it another three before Jake Sanchez closed the deal as the Mexicali Aguilas shut out Cuba's Granma Alazanes, 1-0, Monday night as another sellout crowd of 19,177 looked on at Culiacan's Estadio Tomateros.  The win punches Mexico's ticket to a fifth consecutive Caribbean Series championship game, this one against Puerto Rico's Caguas Criollos on Tuesday night.

However, this win didn't come easily for the Mexican Pacific League champions, whose recent offensive struggles continued after a hot start.  Mexicali now has 11 hits combined over their past two games after collecting 33 safeties in their first three contests.

MEXICALI (MX) Aguilas 1-5-0, Granma (CU) Alazanes 0-2-1

Starting with Sunday's 4-0 loss to Granma, Mexicali's scoreless string against Alazanes pitching reached 13 innings before the Aguilas broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fifth on Monday.  Cuban expat Ronnier Mustelier led off with a walk against Granma starter Lazaro Blanco, scurried to third when Sebastian Valle's bunt single drew a bad throw by Cuban third baseman Yunior Paumier and then came in to score on Agustin Murillo's single to left.  It was as close to home as anyone would get the rest of the night.

Blanco settled down and resumed his duel with Aguilas starter Pena, who gave up no runs on two hits in five innings before making way for Rodriguez.  The Culiacan native, who won Mexicali's opening game against Caguas on Wednesday, picked up the shutout and carried it through the eighth.  For his part, Blanco lasted through the seventh, allowing just one run on four hits for an excellent start.  Livan Moinelo took the mound in the bottom of the eighth for Granma and blanked the Aguilas.  It then came down to closer Sanchez, the MexPac Reliever of the Year who has allowed one earned run all winter, to close out the win and clinch a berth against Caguas in Tuesday's finale.

Sanchez opened the ninth by getting Roel Santos to tap a comebacker to the hill, which Sanchez threw to first for the out.  The Cal Baptist product then walked Victor Mesa on a full count, breaking the string of 24 consecutive Cuban batters retired in a row by Pena, Rodriguez and Sanchez.  Pinch-hitter Guillermo Aviles grounded to second baseman Isaac Rodriguez, who flipped the ball to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to force Mesa at second, but Betancourt's relay to C.J. Retherford was ruled not in time to beat Aviles to the bag.  That brought Mexicali manager Roberto Vizcarra out of the dugout and an appeal was made, but the call was upheld with Aviles safe at first on a fielder's choice and two out.  Sanchez went back to work and caught Alexander Ayala looking for strike three to complete the shutout for his second CS save, sending the Aguilas into the championship game against the Puerto Ricans.  Mexicali opened their first round schedule with a 4-2 win over Caguas on Wednesday.

Pena got the win with his first start of this CS.  Pena, Rodriguez and Sanchez combined to limit the Cuban batting order to two hits and one walk, striking out ten Granma batters (Rodriguez had five in three innings).  Blanco gave up one run on four hits with five whiffs over seven innings in a tough-luck loss.  Chris Roberson singled and drew two walks for Mexicali as the Eagles gathered just five hits.  Mesa singled and Ayala doubled for Granma's lone hits of the night.

Hector Velazquez will get the start against Caguas in Tuesday's CS title game.  The LMP's choice for Pitcher of the Year went five innings and struck out seven Licey hitters in Mexicali's 7-2 win over the Tigres last Thursday.

Caguas (PR) Criollos 9-11-0, ZULIA (VZ) Aguilas 6-16-1

Caguas jumped out to a 4-0 first inning lead and David Vidal socked his third Caribbean Series homer as the Criollos surprised Venezuela's Zulia Aguilas, 9-6, Monday afternoon in the first CS semifinal of the day.  The victory gave the Puerto Rican champs, who'd barely snuck into the Final Four after losing three of their four round-robin games (including a 4-3 loss to Zulia last Thursday), a berth in Tuesday's title game against Mexicali.

Aguilas starter Mitch Lively, who spent time in the Mexican League with Reynosa and Laguna last summer, was knocked out of the box with two out in the first after allowing four runs, including RBI singles from Rusney Castillo and Yadiel Rivera. The Criollos built on their lead with two more runs in the top of the third and single scores in the fourth and fifth frames to go up 8-0.  Zulia plated their first run in the bottom of the fifth when Jose Castillo came in from third on Alex Romero's groundout.  Both teams scored a run in the sixth to put the Puerto Ricans lead at 9-2, which the Criollos maintained until the Venezuelans scored four times in the bottom of the eighth.  Ronny Cedeno doubled in two runs and Castillo singled in two more to bring Zulia within three runs of Caguas.  The Criollos threatened in the bottom of the ninth when Romero, Jesus Flores and Denis Phipps led off the frame with consecutive singles off reliever Ricardo Gomez to load the bases, but Gomez bore down and struck out Ali Castillo, got Freddy Galvis to fly out to center with no baserunners advancing and then struck out Cedeno swinging to end the game.

Criollos opener Orlando Roman pitched with a cushion from the get-go and went on to register five innings, letting in one run while scattering seven hits and three walks, striking out seven.  Lively took the loss after allowing four runs on four hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning.  Henry Ramos led Caguas with three hits (including a triple) and scored once while Vidal homered, singled and drove in two runs.  Castillo and Jose Pirela each had three hits for Zulia (who outhit the winner, 16-to-11), with Castillo driving in a pair of runs and Pirela doubling twice.  Pirela and Aguilas manager Lipso Nava were both ejected for arguing with home plate umpire Jair Fernandez after Pirela ended the bottom of the eighth by popping out to Caguas first sacker Ruben Gotay in foul territory.

Caribbean Series championship game
Tuesday, 6 February 2017
Caguas (PR) at Mexicali (MX)
7:00pm MST (0200 UTC)