The Toros are coming off a 2016 campaign during which they rose from their third-place finish in the Northern Division standings to reach the championship series before losing to Puebla in six games. Tijuana was expected to be one of the favorites in the LMB North in 2017, but it's hard to imagine even manager Pedro Mere expected his team to reel off five straight wins against MLB teams during the preseason amid an overall seven-game winning skein, including Sunday's 8-7 triumph over Texas in ten innings at the Rangers' spring training home in Surprise.
The Rangers took an early lead in Sunday's contest when Frandy De La Rosa launched a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning off Tijuana starter Mark Serrano, a former Reds and Diamondbacks minor leaguer. Chris Valencia's two-run single to left in the top of the third closed Tijuana's deficit to one run. Texas prospect Luis La O, who compiled a career .329 average in the Cuban National Series before signing with the Rangers in January, punched a two-run single in the bottom of the fifth to stretch the Rangers' advantage to 5-2, but the Toros fought back with four runs in the top of the eighth (including a Valencia two-run double) to take the lead.
Texas score twice more in the bottom of the frame to regain the advantage, which held through the top of the ninth, but the two teams agreed to an elongated game so players could get a little more work in, which gave the Toros one more chance in the top of the tenth that they took full advantage of. After Isaac Rodriguez got on board by singling off Rangers reliever Ariel Jurado, former Arizona State catcher R.J. Ybarra (pictured) socked a two-run roundtripper to give Tijuana an 8-7 lead and Toros reliever Jason Urqiudez shut out the Rangers in the bottom of the tenth to close out the win.
The victory gives the Toros an 8-1 preseason record, including three wins over the Rangers, two against Korea's NC Dinos (who are also training under Arizona skies) and single wins versus the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers. Tijuana clobbered the Dodgers, 6-1, Friday in Glendale as first baseman Cyle Hankerd swatted a two-run longball to give the Toros a fourth-inning lead they would open further as the game progressed. The only TJ exhibition loss was a 7-4 defeat at the hands of the Oakland A's on March 8 in Mesa. The Toros have two more preseason games scheduled against big league teams this week when they take on the world champion Chicago Cubs in Mesa Wednesday before playing the Cincinnati Reds Friday in Goodyear. It should be noted that Tijuana's success has come against teams in minor league camps (as opposed to the 40-man rosters on the big league squads) and most opposing players are ticketed for AAA and AA affiliates, but the Toros ARE defeating opponents representing MLB teams and that is also worthy of mention when they represent MiLB's lone sanctioned foreign league.