|Yucatan Leones designated hitter Luis Juarez|
The title set opened Wednesday, June 20 with a 6-1 Yucatan win at home as Juarez pounded a pair of homers, followed one night later by a 3-0 Yucatan shutout with Samayoa combining with three relievers for the whitewash. The set shifted to Monterrey for the next three games, all won by the Sultanes: 9-2 on June 23 as the hosts posted a seven-run eighth inning to break a 2-all tie, a 4-3 Monterrey win on June 24 that featured a Yadir Drake solo homer and 3-1 on June 25 with starter Jose De Paula tossing 6.2 frames of one-run ball. The series shifted back to Yucatan for Game Six last Wednesday, with the Leones posting a 4-2 triumph behind Everth Cabrera's tiebreaking double in the fifth as the home team won all seven games of the finals for the first time in Mexican League championship series history.
The Leones worked their way to the flag by posting a 40-17 regular season record to top the Liga before beating Leon in five games in the South Division semifinals and Quintana Roo over seven games in the rain-delayed South finals. It was a typical Yucatan team built around pitching as the Lions led the 16-team circuit with a 3.95 earned-run average, with veterans Jonathan Castellanos (5-3, 2.43) and Jose Samayoa (6-4, 2.57) leading the mound staff while Yoanner Negrin coming in at 6-1 over elevens starts. Negrin, the MXL's Pitcher of the Year in 2016, won Game Seven. The Leones were in the middle of the pack offensively, although Juarez (.370 with 13 homers and 54 RBIs) and Jesus "Cacao" Valdez (.364/8/44) both enjoyed standout campaigns during the 57-game regular season under manager Roberto Vizcarra. In his first season in Merida, Vizcarra earned the second title of his LMB managerial career after winning with Quintana Roo in 2015.
Monterrey reached the Serie del Rey by knocking out both Monclova and Tijuana in the LMB North semis and finals, respectively. Both Sultanes series wins preceded the dismissal of manager Dan Firova from the Acereros and skipper Pedro Mere from the Toros. For the Fall 2018 campaign, Monclova will be led by former MLB second baseman Carlos Garcia, who represented the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1994 All-Star Game; taking the reins in TJ will be longtime helmsman Lino Rivera, who led Yucatan to the 2006 pennant and has also been a dugout boss in Monclova, Monterrey, Veracruz, Laguna and Campeche. The Sultanes were led offensively by Ramon Rios (.353), Yadir Drake (.341), Chris Roberson (.340) and Ricky Alvarez (.302/13/49) while first-year manager Roberto Kelly's pitching corps was paced by Liga ERA leader Jorge Reyes (3-0, 1.97 in nine starts), Game Seven loser Marco Tovar (6-2, 3.51) and closer Wirfin Obispo (3-2, 2.30 and 10 saves).
Players and coaches for both teams will barely have enough time to catch their breath until the Fall 2018 schedule gets underway Tuesday night when all 16 MXL teams swing into action for the second 57-game regular season campaign of the year.
SOUTH POUNDS NORTH, 10-2, IN LMB ALL-STAR GAME
|LMB South All-Stars celebrate win|
The South opened the scoring with four runs in the bottom of the second inning, highlighted by an RBI double from Quintana Roo's Carlos Gastelum and a run-scoring single by Oaxaca's Yuniesky Betancourt. The game was put away for all intent and purposes in the bottom of the fifth entrada, when the South put another six runs on the board, starting with a bases-loaded walk to Emmanuel Avila (Mexico City) and followed by an RBI single from Avila's Diablos Rojos teammate Ivan Terrazas and an extra-base hit by yet another Mexico City player, catcher Hans Wilson to make the score 10-0.
The North finally got on the scoreboard with a pair of runs in the eighth, when Felix Perez (Aguascalientes) stroked a double to plate Enrique Osorio (Dos Laredos) while Perez later scored himself on a Maxwell Leon (Tijuana) single but the Nortenos had dug themselves too deep a hole by then. A total of 20 pitchers were trotted out by both teams in the contest (none for more than one inning), which still managed to get played in fewer than three hours despite all the changes. One-time Florida Marlins All-Star Henderson Alvarez (Quintana Roo) was the starter for the South but the win was credited to Alvarez' Tigres moundmate Dustin Crenshaw. Monclova ace Josh Lowey was tabbed by Kelly as the North starter but the loss was hung on Tijuana lefty Carlos Hernandez. Not surprisingly, the South had more hits than the North, 14 to 6.
A crowd of 12,963 was on hand in Merida for the contest as Terrazas was named All-Star MVP after going 3-for-4 with a pair of runs scored and three more driven in (which doesn't necessarily jibe with the above scoring summary but we can only report on what we can find). One night later, the Liga held its annual Home Run Derby and a new competition, the Double Play Derby. Hometown favorite Luis Juarez, who'd already won the Serie del Rey MVP trophy two nights earlier for the Leones, was able to beat Monterrey's Ricky Alvarez in the Home Run Derby final round by a 10-to-1 margin. Prior to that, Yucatan infielders Everth Cabrera and Diego Madera combined to win the Double Play Derby final over Monterrey keystone combo Ramiro Pena (SS) and Ramon Rios (2B) in a competition judged by points on speed and precision. In addition, no less than 13 LMB team mascots took the field simultaneously to generally cavort around to the delight of youngsters in the stands while LMB awards from the 2017 season were handed out in a postgame ceremony.
LUIS SOJO NAMED NEW MANAGER IN MEXICALI
|New Mexicali Aguilas manager Luis Sojo|
A native of Venezuela, Sojo debuted as an MLB player in 1993 with Toronto and went on to spend 13 seasons in the big leagues, winning one World Series with the Blue Jays his first year and four more times with the Yankees between 1996 and 2000, earning him the nickname "Lord of the Rings." He was a successful winterball player as well, winning a record five batting titles over 21 seasons in the Venezuelan League, mostly with the Lara Cardinales, during which he hit .320 lifetime and picking up MVP trophies in 1989-90 and 1993-93.
As a manager, Sojo led the Venezuelan National Team at the World Baseball Classic in 2006, 2009 and 2013, taking third place in the WBC in 2009. He also won a Venezuelan League pennant as helmsman of the Magallanes Navegantes in 2012-13. Sojo is spending the summer working in the Yankees minor league system.
It's been an interesting year for the Aguilas, who'd brought Mere on board as manager only last November after sending former skipper Roberto Vizcarra packing after an uninspiring first half of the LMP season less than a year after Vizcarra had led Mexicali to the MexPac pennant and Caribbean Series championship. Mere went on to take the Aguilas to the playoffs and a first-round series win over Mazatlan in six games before being swept in the semifinals to eventual champion Culiacan, leading to his pink slip.
Ironically, Vizcarra was fired in Mexicali three days after Sojo got his walking papers in Los Mochis and it's safe to say that the latter will be working with a short leash under Mexicali owner Dio Alberto Murillo, who has proven to be one of those "What-have-you-done-for-me-lately?" owners so ubiquitous in Mexican baseball. It's worthy to note the name of the man Mere replaced in Tijuana as the Mexican League Toros' manager last year: Luis Sojo. You can't make this stuff up.