Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Toros, Pericos both one win away from Serie del Rey rematch

Tijuana Toros pitcher Alex Sanabia
The Tijuana Toros and Puebla Pericos came away with Tuesday night triumphs in their respective Mexican League division championship series, and both are one win away from punching their tickets to the LMB's Serie del Rey league championship series.  The two teams collided in last year's finals, with Puebla coming away with the pennant.

Alex Sanabia contributed a brilliant pitching performance in Tijuana's 4-1 victory in Monterrey Tuesday, allowing no earned runs on one hit and no walks over seven innings as the Toros edged ahead of the Sultanes in their LMB North final series, 3 games to 2.  In Puebla, both the Pericos and Yucatan Leones broke out the bats to combine for 18 runs and 28 hits as the hosts posted an 11-7 win over the men from Merida to take a 3-games-to-1 advantage in their LMB South title set.  Jesus Arredondo had three hits and three RBIs for the winners.

The Toros and Sultanes will take Wednesday off as a travel day prior to Thursday night's Game Six in Tijuana.  The Pericos and Leones will play Game Five of their series after Monday's rainout in Puebla pushed their set back a day.

Tijuana 4-4-1, MONTERREY 1-1-0
W-Sanabia (2-0).  L-Solano (0-2).  SV-Urquidez (1).  A-21,285.  T-2:33.

Although the boxscore won't reveal it, Tijuana starting pitcher Alex Sanabia literally threw away whatever shutout bid in the bottom of the first inning but pulled himself together to dominate Monterrey over the next six innings to register his second win of the LMB North championship series.  Sultanes leadoff hitter Chris Roberson tapped a grounder back to the mound that Sanabia meant to throw to Toros first baseman Jorge Cantu for the first out of the inning.  Instead, the former Marlins hurler's throw sailed out of Cantu's reach into right field foul territory, allowing the speedy Roberson to advance all the way to third base on the play.  Robo then scored on Ramon Rios' sacrifice fly to give Monterrey an early 1-0 lead.  One out later, Sanabia plunked Jesus Montero to put another runner on, but induced Daniel Mayora into a fielder's choice grounder to Alex Liddi for the final out of a shaky frame.

After that, the righty from San Diego settled down to dominate the Sultanes lineup for the next six innings, allowing only a Zoilo Almonte leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh before being replaced by Juan Sandoval in the eighth.  Sanabia retired 15 Monterrey batters in a row, pitching 1-2-3 innings from the second through the sixth entradas, and threw strikes on 50 of his 73 pitches on the night.  He has now allowed one earned run on six hits over 14 innings in his two victories against the Sultanes after winning last Thursday's opener, 10-1.

Sanabia still had to pitch from behind through three innings before his teammates scored three times in the top of the fourth to give him a lead to work with, with all runs coming in on Dustin Martin's three-run homer off Monterrey starter Javier Solano, who'd allowed a leadoff single to Roberto Lopez and gave up a two-out walk to Cantu before Martin stepped up to the plate.  Martin later made a standout defensive play in the seventh, when he caught a one-out Mayora fly ball to right field and then threw a strike to Cantu at first to double off Almonte for the final out of the frame.

Corey Brown gave Tijuana one more insurance run by belting his second homer of the series in the top of the ninth off Solano to make it a 4-1 game.  Solano pitched in tough luck in an otherwise decent 119-pitch performance, but that gopher ball to Martin in the fourth was the difference-maker.  Toros closer Jason Urquidez then came on to retire the Sultanes in order in the bottom of the ninth to give TJ the first win by a road team in the series, which now shifts back to Tijuana for Thursday's Game Six.  The Toros are now a win away from a second straight shot at the city's first Liga pennant.  A crowd of 21,285 watched the game at Estadio Monterrey to bring the three-day attendance total in Monterrey to over 60,000 aficionados.

PUEBLA 11-16-0, Yucatan 7-12-0
W-Roenicke (2-0).  L-Negrin (0-1).  SV-Heath (2).  A-11,099.  T-3:30.

Unlike Tuesday's Tijuana-Monterrey game, this contest had little to do with pitching as Puebla and Yucatan got together to post batting-practice totals of 18 runs and 28 hits on the night, with the host Pericos prevailing by an 11-7 score.  At least one run was scored by either team in every inning but the second and eighth as defending champion Puebla brought themselves one win away from the Serie del Rey.

Issmael Salas' two-run homer off Yucatan starter Jonathan Castellanos in the bottom of the first gave the Pericos an early lead while serving early notice that this would be a long night for pitchers.  Castellanos then gave up singles to Jesus Arredondo and Cesar Tapia before Leones manager Chico Rodriguez decided he'd seen enough and brought in Yoanner Negrin to stop the bleeding and the 2016 Pitcher of the Year obliged, getting Hector Garanzuay to fly to right for the third out.  Yuniesky Betancourt socked a solo homer in the top of the second against Pericos starter Josh Roenicke to cut the Puebla lead to one, but a (what else?) homer by Arredondo from a Negrin delivery put the home team up, 3-1.

A wild fourth inning in both halves generated a total of eight runs on eight hits for the two combatants. Roenicke staggered through the top of the fourth by allowing three runs after the first five batters accrued hit after hit: Juan Francisco singled, Betancourt doubled, Esteban Quiroz double (scoring Francisco and Betancourt), Ricky Alvarez singled and Sebastian Valle doubled to plate Quiroz.  Roenicke then drilled Juan Aguilar with a pitch before getting the first out of the inning, a bases-loaded Leo Heras sacrifice fly that brought in Quiroz from third to give Yucatan a 5-3 advantage.  Valle was then thrown out at the plate on Diego Madero's grounder to third before Ronnier Mustelier grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice at second.  Roenicke managed to stay in for all nine batters, but his insurance rates are likely to go up in the aftermath.

Then it was Puebla's turn to beat a drum on Negrin in the bottom of the fourth, also sending nine men to the plate.  Garanzuay led off with a double, moved to third on a Sergio Perez single and scored when shortstop Madero made a bad throw on an Alberto Carreon grounder.  It looked like Negrin might pitch himself out of trouble when he struck out Julio Borbon and Endy Chavez, but the gates opened again when Salas was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Arredondo walked to bring in Perez with the tying run and Ricky Rodriguez lined a single to left, scoring Carreon and Salas to bring the Pericos back into a 7-5 lead.  At that point, Negrin was replaced by Jesus Barraza, who struck out Tapia to end the carnage.

Puebla then rang up four more runs in the bottom of the fifth to go up 11-5 as the Leones sent three men to the mound.  Barraza lasted long enough to give up singles to Garanzuay and Carreon before Alejandro Soto came in with one out and immediately gave up run-scoring singles to Borbon and Chavez.  Soto was then yanked for Pedro Rodriguez, who bookended the final two outs around an RBI single by Arredondo.  From that point on it seemed a matter of time for the Pericos, although the Leones did fight back with single runs in the seventh (bases-loaded forceout by Alvarez that scored Ivan Araujo) and ninth (RBI single from Aguilar) to come within four counters before time ran out.

Where to begin with highlights from this one?  Let's start with Puebla DH Arredondo, who collected two singles and a homer to drive in three runs and score once.  Garanzuay and Perez, batting seventh and eighth, combined for six hits and three runs (both are batting .500 for the series) and Perez also homered and scored twice for the home team.  Five players had two hits each for Yucatan but Quiroz did the most damage, hitting one double and walking three times to score twice and drive in two more.  Betancourt also scored twice while singling and homering and Araujo (making his first appearance of the series when he batted for Mustelier in the seventh and took over in left) went 2-for-2 with a run.

Roenicke was awarded the win because, well, SOMEONE had to get the W, but it was probably a start he'd rather forget after giving up five runs on seven hits and three walks over 5.1 innings and 110 pitches.  Whew!  Negrin took the loss in his first relief appearance since July 12, 2015, allowing two runs on five hits in three innings.  Deunte Heath got his second save of the series for Puebla but even he let in a run in 1.1 innings of closing work.  It was that kind of night.

Over 11,000 fans turned out for the second night in a row in Estadio Hermanos Serdan, where the Pericos averaged just 3,186 per opening during the regular season, leading owner Gerardo Benavides (who dismantled his 2016 champions by sending 20+ players to his other team in Monclova during the last offseason) to declare his willingness to move the team north for 2018 if fans didn't turn out in the postseason.  The two teams will go at it again in Game Five Wednesday in Puebla as the Pericos try to close out the series with Andres Meza on the mound against Yucatan's James Russell.

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