Friday, September 8, 2017

Ramirez, TJ blank Puebla, 4-0; Toros poised for title sweep

Horacio Ramirez turned in his third consecutive sterling playoff start for Tijuana on Friday night, tossing seven-plus innings of five-hit shutout ball while Roberto Lopez had two hits and socked a homer as the Toros went on to whitewash Puebla, 4-0, in the Mexican League championship series.  A season-high crowd at 11,906 at Puebla's Estadio Hermanos Serdan saw their hometown Pericos drop their third straight game in the Serie del Rey, putting Tijuana on the cusp of a four-game sweep for the border city's first-ever professional baseball pennant.

Tijuana 4-7-1, PUEBLA 0-6-2 (Tijuana leads series, 3 games to 0)
W-H. Ramirez (1-0).  L-Outman (0-1).  A-11,906.  T-2:40.

As Hurricane Katia neared landfall on the state of Veracruz to the east, Puebla remained dry long enough for the visiting Tijuana Toros to top the defending champion Pericos, 4-0, to reach the brink of an LMB Serie del Rey sweep after losing in six games last season to the Parrots.  Former big league starter Horacio Ramirez, ten weeks away of his 37th birthday, turned in another stellar performance for skipper Pedro Mere's Bulls to post his third consecutive playoff win.

TJ opened the scoring in the top of the fourth inning after Ramirez and Puebla opener Josh Outman traded zeros through the first three entradas.  Cyle Hankerd was plunked by an Outman pitch to lead things off for Tijuana, then moved to second after a Jorge Cantu strikeout when Outman walked Dustin Martin.  Hankerd and Martin both advanced a base when Puebla first baseman Nate Freiman mishandled a Juan Apodaca grounder and was unable to make the out at first.  Johnson appealed the call, but replays upheld first base umpire Humberto Saiz' decision.  Hankerd then came in to break the scoreless tie on Alex Liddi's fielder's choice grounder up the middle.

The Toros extended their lead with a pair of runs in the fifth.  Roberto Lopez' one-out homer to left put the visitors ahead, 2-0.  Corey Brown then singled, stole second during an Outman walk to Hankerd, moved to third on a 6-4 forceout at second on a Cantu ground ball and plated a run on Martin's liner into left.  The final run of the night was pushed across in the top of the sixth as Liddi walked to open the inning, took second on Isaac Rodriguez' 1-3 comebacker to Outman on the hill and moved to third on an Outman wild pitch to Jose Guadalupe Chavez before scoring on Chavez' single to right to put the score at 4-0.

Ramirez carried his cushioned shutout two outs into the eighth, when Mere brought in Juan Sandoval from the bullpen after a walk to Pericos shortstop Alberto Carreon. Sandoval did what he's been doing since the opening series against Aguascalientes, closing out the eighth and turning in a scoreless ninth to mark his ninth consecutive postseason appearance without being scored upon, giving up two hits and striking out five over 9.2 innings.  Sandoval has pitched heroically in the playoffs for Tijuana, forming a terrific troika from the bullpen with middleman Mark Serrano and closer Jason Urquidez, both of whom were rested Friday.  While the Toros starters haven't always had it easy, those three relievers have been lights-out since the first round against the Rieleros.

But the true hero of the night was Ramirez.  Treated roughly at times by Seattle fans when he pitched for the Mariners in 2007 (one teammate was current Tijuana GM Jorge Campillo), going 8-7 in 20 starts but with a 7.16 ERA, the 6'1" lefty was rock-solid during his 7.2-inning stint, allowing no runs on five hits and two walks. Although Friday marked Ramirez' second straight outing with no strikeouts, the win was his third straight in the playoffs after beating Monterrey twice in the LMB North finals.  The Californian also registered four shutout innings at Aguascalientes in an August 17 no-decision.  His postseason ERA is now 1.13 in 24 total innings.

Outman took the loss for the Pericos, but the former Oakland starter/Colorado middleman did not pitch all that badly, giving up three earned runs in 5.1 innings on six hits.  However, the 32-year-old lefty had control problems for his second start in a row with four walks, making it nine Annie Oakleys (look it up) over his last 10.1 innings.  Lopez and Hankerd both had two hits for the winners, with the former homering and the latter doubling.  Six different Puebla batters had one hit apiece as Carreon and Cesar Tapia each hit two-baggers.

Two more games (if Game Four is scheduled for Saturday night in Puebla as Pericos manager Tim Johnson sends Andres Meza to the mound against former big leaguer Sergio Mitre for the Toros.  Meza was 5-6 with a 5.06 ERA in the regular season, but shut Leon out over 5.1 innings in the first round of the playoffs and beat Yucatan in the LMB South title set clincher, 4-3, on August 31.  Mitre was a combined 5-3 and 3.10 in nine game (eight of them starts) for Leon and Tijuana.  The ex-Yankees reliever has pitched in three postseason games, going 1-1 with a 1.54 ERA, shutting out Aguascalientes over four frames of relief in a 4-0 Game Five win in the LMB North semis on August 18.

However, it remains to be seen as this is written whether Hurrican Katia allows either game to be played.  Baseball may be life to some, but life itself is bigger than baseball.  Between life and baseball, only one is a game. Cuidense, muchachos!