Saturday, October 7, 2017

Tucson Mexican Baseball Fiesta: Day Two Report

Hermosillo pitcher Cesar Vargas
Day Two of the 2017 Mexican Baseball Fiesta in Tucson’s Kino Stadium on Friday saw a reasonably close first game in which the defending Mexican Pacific League champion Mexicali Aguilas held off a Cincinnati Reds Arizona Instructional League team, 4-3, as Yuniesky Betancourt singled, doubled and drove in two runs.  The much-anticipated nightcap between Hermosillo and Obregon, two longtime LMP rivals, ended up being an 8-1 Naranjeros romp as starting pitcher Cesar Vargas tossed three innings of one-hit scoreless ball while veterans Jason Bourgeois, Carlos Gastelum and Jose Amador evenly split six hits and scored four runs between them.  Throughout the evening, however, a festive mood prevailed in the ballpark as live bands played on the concourse, mascots took parts in between-innings skits and fans from Arizona and Mexico got to enjoy an evening of baseball, Mexican-style.

In the opener, Cincinnati opened the scoring in the top of the second inning when Morgan Lofstrom redirected a Javier Solano offering off and over the top of the wall in right-center for a leadoff homer.  Solano then bore down and struck out the next three Reds batters.  Mexicali came back in the bottom of the frame with a pair of runs.  C.J. Retherford led off with a single and came around to score on Ricky Alvarez' double against the center field wall to tie the game.  After Josh Romanosky struck out, Ramon Rios punched a single to left to bring Alvarez in with the go-ahead run.

The defending MexPac champion Aguilas added to their advantage in the bottom of the third with two more runs.  With one out, Yordanys Linares and Walter Ibarra hit back-to-back soft singles, bringing up Yuniesky Betancourt.  After Linares and Ibarra successfully pulled off a double steal, Betancourt smoked a Luis Alecis pitch down the third-base line into left field, scoring both baserunners and bringing about Alecis' exit.  Reds reliever Tanner Rainey struck out both Retherford and Alvarez to end the inning, but Mexicali had themselves a 4-1 lead after three.

Cincinnati got two runs back in the top of the fourth, both after the first two batsmen were retired by Solano. Lofstrom rapped a single to right and then scored when Mark Kolozsvary doubled into the gap in right-center. Leandro Santana then singled up the middle to bring in Kolozsvary, but was gunned down trying to take second on Linares' throw to the plate after catcher Francisco Cordoba's subsequent throw barely beat Santana to the bag on a close call.  That ended both the inning and the night for Solano, who finished his four entradas of work after allowing three runs on four hits with six strikeouts.

From that point on, it was up to Mexicali’s bullpen to hold the Reds scoreless over the last three frames of the seven-inning contest.  After Marco Quevedo retired the side in order in the fifth, newcomer Nolan Becker, who led the independent Can-Am League with 24 saves for champion Quebec this summer, ran into some trouble in the top of the sixth by walking the first two Cincy batsmen he faced (Jeter Downs and Taylor Trammell) before getting the next two hitters out, although Montrell Marshall sacrificed both runners to third and second, respectively.  Aguilas manager Roberto Vizcarra then brought in another fresh face, Victor Capellan, to strike out Kolozsvary and end the inning.

Capellan, who went 4-4 with a 1.25 ERA for Winnipeg in the indy American Association, went on to post a 1-2-3 seventh for the save as the Aguilas mound staff combined to hold the Reds to three hits on the night.  Solano earned the win for Mexicali while Alecis took the loss for Cincinnati after giving up four runs on six hits in 2.1 innings. Betancourt had two of Mexicali's seven hits with two RBIs while Linares and Rios both reached base twice.  Lofstrom singled, homered and scored two runs for the Reds.

In the second game, Hermosillo and Obregon swapped zeros through the first two innings before the Naranjeros put three runs on the board in the top of the third.  Carlos Gastelum led off with a single, then came around from first base on a Domonic Brown double. Obregon manager Miguel Ojeda took out starting pitcher Irwin Delgado and brought in Martin Sotelo to pitch to veteran slugger Luis Alfonso Garcia.  The move paid immediate dividends as Sotelo got Garcia looking for a strikeout.  Things looked even brighter after Brown was caught stealing third while Jose Amador was batting on a terrific throw by Yaquis catcher Jose Felix for the second out of the inning, and it didn't seem to matter much at the time when Amador singled.  Ojeda then brought in Adrian Ramirez to pitch to Fernando Perez, who promptly doubled and moved Amador to third.  Jose Cardona came up and rapped a single that scored both Amador and Perez to give the Naranjeros a 3-0 lead before Ramirez got Arturo Rodriguez to fly out to right to end the inning.

The Naranjeros broke the game wide open with three more runs in the top of the fourth.  After Jorge Flores popped out to the catcher to open the inning, the next five Hermosillo batters either singled or walked, with Roberto Ramos' bases-loaded walk pushing Jason Bourgeois across with one counter and a sharp Amador single bringing in both Gastelum and Brown to make it a 6-0 Hermosillo lead over their bitter rivals (a Naranjeros-Yaquis matchup is the MexPac's version of the Yankees and Red Sox in terms of intensity).

The Yaquis finally broke their scoreless spell after Hermosillo starter Cesar Vargas was taken out after three innings.  Reliever Sergio Alvarado struggled in the fourth, starting with Carlos Valencia’s leadoff double into the left field corner.  Valencia advance to third on an infield single by Paul Leon and scored on Jonathan Aranda's flyout to left, breaking up Hermosillo's shutout bid.  Jose Felix added a single to put Leon in scoring position but Felix Pie's groundout to second ended the threat.

Not that it really mattered, as Hermosillo plated two more runs in the top of the fifth when Flores singled in pinch-runner Ciro Norzagaray and Flores scored on Irving Lopez' groundout to second, bringing the rout to its final 8-1 count as neither team scored the rest of the way..

Bourgeois, Gastelum and Amador each had two singles, combined to score four runs and drive in four more for the victorious Naranjeros, who outhit Obregon, 11-6.  Nobody had more than one safety for the Yaquis, with Valencia and Irving Falu contributing doubles on a night that clearly belonged to Hermosillo.  Vargas' three innings of work earned him the win, but it almost seems unfair that the loss should be hung on Delgado, whose two-plus innings (in which he gave up one run on three hits and as many walks) was probably the Yaquis’ pitching highlight, which sort of says it all right there.

Saturday's Day Three schedule at the Mexican Baseball Fiesta will begin with a 5:30PM PDT contest between Mexicali and Los Mochis, with the Caneros making their 2017 Tucson debut by taking CIncinnati’s place in the foursome.  That game will be followed by an Hermosillo-Obregon rematch.