Monday, September 24, 2018

SULTANES ONE WIN FROM SERIE DEL REY, LMB SOUTH TIED AT 1-1

Does this picture really need a caption?
The Monterrey Sultanes stand one game away from a berth in the Serie del Rey (Series of Kings) after winning the first three games of their Mexican League North Division Championship Series over Monclova.  Monterrey is seeking their tenth LMB pennant since the team's 1939 inception while the Acereros are chasing Monclova's first Liga flag.  The two teams have met nine times in the playoffs, with Monterrey winning eight of them while Sutanes skipper Roberto Kelly is trying to outmanage his Monclova counterpart, Pedro Mere, for a LMB North title a second time this year (Mere was dugout boss in Tijuana in the Spring season).

Monterrey opened the series last Thursday with a 4-3 win in Monclova as Yadir Drake belted a tiebreaking solo homer in the top of the ninth and Sultanes closer Wirfin Obispo struck out Cade Gotta swinging in the bottom of the frame to close out the game and earn the save.  Setup man Nick Struck pitched a scoreless eighth to qualify for the win while Zack Segovia (who gave up the Drake longball) took the loss for the Acereros.  Monterrey leadoff hitter Julio Borbon had three hits, including a solo homer off Monclova starter Andre Rienzo.  Erick Aybar singled and socked a solo homer for the Acereros.

A two-run roundtripper by two-time LMB home run champion Felix Perez gave Monterrey a 5-3 lead in Game Two's third inning as the Sultanes went on to score twice more in the top of the fourth (courtesy of a two-run Borbon bomb) and sail to a 7-3 win Friday.  Monclova ace Josh Lowey had an uncharacteristic bad outing, giving up seven runs on as many hits (including homers by Perez, Borbon and Agustin Murillo on a solo blast in the top of the first) in four innings to earn the loss.  Darin Downs struck out four Acereros batsmen in 2.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen for the win.  The game took over five hours to complete (including a two-hour rain delay), ending after 12:30 in the morning.

Returning home with a 2-0 advantage, the Sultanes added to Monclova owner Gerardo Benavides' misery by topping his Acereros again on Sunday, 8-6, as 15,758 watched at Estadio Monterrey (a total of 17,000 fans attended the first two games at 11,000-seat Estadio Monclova).  No late heroics required in this one either, as Monterrey built an 8-0 lead after three innings and coasted to the win.  Jose Amador and Ramiro Pena homered for the Sultanes while Drake sent his second ball to the streets in three games with a three-run dinger (Amador's also rang up three on the scoreboard).   Monterrey starter Edgar Gonzalez faded after a strong start but stayed ahead long enough for the win despite overall so-so numbers of four runs on eight hits in five innings as the Acereros fought back to within two runs by game's end.  Rienzo, who had a terrific regular season for Monclova but has struggled in two outings against Monterrey in this series, took the loss after allowing Amador's three-run longball in the first inning (the only one he would pitch, it turned out).  If the Acereros lose this series, what will Mere's job running the team with a volatile owner ike Benavides be worth?

Monterrey outlasted Tijuana in seven games to advance past the first round, with that series ended by a 4-3 win on the road last Tuesday as the Sultanes survived two Jorge Cantu homers and a late surge by the Toros in the form of a two-run bottom of the ninth off Obispo, who continued to struggle a bit before getting Jose Guadalupe Chavez on a swinging strikeout with tying run Dustin Martin standing on second to end the game (and Tijuana's season with the Toros' second consecutive LMB North finals loss in 2018).  Monclova had the LMB's best record in the fall season before eliminating Dos Laredos in the opening round to advance to the LMB North finals.

The Sultanes will try to close out the series at home Monday night (and will host Game Five as well, if needed, on Tuesday).
 

GUERREROS BOP DIABLOS TO KNOT LMB SOUTH FINALS AT 1-1

Yuniesky Betancourt saluting his fans in Yucatan
Yuniesky Betancourt went 4-for-6 with two homers and three RBIs as his Oaxaca Guerreros manhandled their "big brother" Mexico City Diablos, 13-3,  in Sunday's rain-delayed Game Two of the Mexican League South Division Championship Series afternoon in front of 5,425 at a packed Estadio Fray Nano in the nation's capital.  The win evened the series at one game apiece.

Betancourt, who brought attention to himself in less glorious fashion after a first-round game last week (more on that later), put the Guerreros ahead 1-0 in the top of the first with a two-out solo homer off Diablos' starter Patrick Johnson on Saturday.  The hosts fought back and carried a rain-delayed 3-1 lead into Sunday before Oaxaca regained the nod with four runs in the top of the fifth, keyed by Julian Ornelas' two-run single.  The Warriors never looked back and Betancourt's two-run homer in the ninth capped the scoring.  Irwin Delgado took the Game Two win after five innings in relief on Sunday, giving up three runs, while Gonzalo Sanudo absorbed the loss for Mexico City. 

The Diablos won the series opener Friday, 8-6, before 5,842 aficionados as Mexico City fans are finally coming out to support their 16-time champions, who drew an average gathering of 2,613 attendance per opening during the regular season (11th in the Liga).  Red Devils shortstop Juan Carlos Gamboa gave the home fans something to cheer about with a fourth-inning grand slam off Oaxaca starter Jose Medina, erasing a 4-0 Guerreros lead with one swing.  A Michael Choice double later in the same frame plated David Vidal with the go-ahead run, but the visitors reclaimed the advantage with two runs in the top of the fifth, including Henry Urrutia's leadoff homer against Diablos starter Octavio Acosta.  Mexico City took the lead back for good in the bottom of the fifth when Vidal singled Luis Jimenez in with the tying run and later scoring the eventual game-winner on an Emmanuel Avila groundout.  Arturo Lopez retired two batters in relief for the Diablos and was given the win for short work while Axel Rios took the loss for Oaxaca.

The Diablos advanced to the LMB South title set by eliminating Puebla in the first round, 4 games to 1, wrapping up the series last Sunday.  Defending champion Yucatan stretched Oaxaca to a seventh game before the Guerreros prevailed, 5-2, in extra innings last Thursday in Merida as Jay Austin capped a three-run top of the eleventh with a two-run homer.  After the game, Betancourt (who played for the Leones last year) waved to some of his former Yucatan fans but failed to raise his thumb and three of his remaining four fingers in the effort.  Maybe he was tired.

Game Three of the LMB South title set is slated for Tuesday at Oaxaca's Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.  The current Diablos-Guerreros series has created some controversy simply from its makeup.  Billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu owns both teams, something allowed in Mexican baseball, and the relationship is somewhat similar to that of the New York Yankees and Kansas City A's in the late Fifties and early Sixties...if that relationship seemed almost incestuous, this one would bring a Child Protective Services caseworker rapping at the door with sheriff's deputy in tow.  Harp, who has reportedly been angered by the LMB rulings against his Diablos in both the Rookiegate scandal and the upholding of slugger Japhet Amador's suspension in Japan (see below), is in a can't-lose position since ONE of his teams will reach the Serie del Rey.  Even then, he loses because if Mexico City wins, they were SUPPOSED to while if the Guerreros advance, that means "suspended" (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) Diablos GM Francisco "Pollo" Minjares loaded the wrong team.


NPB RATIFIES AMADOR SUSPENSION, SIX-MONTH BAN UPHELD

DH Japhet Amador is expected back in Jalisco
Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball has ratified the six-month suspension handed to Mexican slugger Japhet Amador on August 9 after the Rakuten Golden Eagles designated hitter tested positive for chlorthalidone and furosemide, both banned substances that can serve as "masking agents" for performance-enhancing drugs.  The Eagles appealed the suspension on August 22, the last day an appeal could be filed before a deadline passed, and the NPB eventually ratified its initial decision.

Amador tested positive after giving a urine sample following a June 13 interleague game against the Chunichi Dragons at home in Sendai.  The 6'4" "El Gigante de Mulege" first offered testimony at a July 30 hearing, saying he'd never knowingly take a banned substance but declining to appeal the test results, and gave another explanation on September 4.  The NPB ratification was handed down Friday and marks the fifth time that Japanese baseball's governing body has suspended a player for doping since drug testing was introduced in 2007; Amador's suspension is the first since 2011.

The massive Amador was hitting .269 with 20 homers over 62 Pacific League games this summer when abdominal pain sidelined him on July 3, according to the Mainichi website in Tokyo, after a slow start that saw Amador shipped to the minors for a short spell.  In three seasons with the Eagles, he's batted .250 with 52 homers and 126 RBIs in 222 games.  Amador came to Japan following a banner year in Mexico, beginning with a Mexican League MVP season for Mexico City after hitting .346 with an LMB-leading 41 homers over 103 contests and culminating in a winterball season in Jalisco, where he hit .288 with another 14 homers over 58 games before signing with Rakuten and heading to Japan, missing the Mexican Pacific League playoffs.

The Mexican League chose to honor Amador's regular season ban, preventing him from playing for the Diablos Rojos this summer. Diego Alejandro Reos of Informador.mx says Amador is expected to report to the Guadalajara team for training camp this Thursday, as per Charros' GM Ray Padilla.  "It's very important to have him from the start," Padilla said, "and more because he'll come to take 20 days of training and that'll be great for us.  He'll surely get into a good rhythm and help us a lot from the first game."  Regarding Amador's NPB ban, Padilla offered this (translated) quote: "These are situations that are foreign to us, to our organization, so we cannot comment at this time.

"It is benefitting us instead of harming us.  If he made a mistake he will show his face, but in no way does it affect us."