|Jalisco Charros catcher Gabriel Gutierrez|
Jalisco's number nine batter, catcher Gabriel Gutierrez, faced such a situation last Tuesday in Culiacan, with the added pressure of his plate appearance coming late in a scoreless Game Six playoff contest. With Stephen Cardullo standing on second after drawing a walk from Tomateros closer and LMP saves champion Casey Coleman and then stealing a base, Gutierrez lofted a Coleman delivery to right that Sebastian Elizalde couldn't reach and motored into second for the first Charros safety of the night, driving in Cardullo with the go-ahead run. Sergio Romo then came in for Jalisco and retired the Culiacan side on eleven pitches to seal the 1-0 win for Chad Gaudin (who pitched a scoreless eighth) and send the Charros on to the Mexican Pacific League semifinals with the 4-games-to-2 series win. On the other hand, the defending champion Tomateros face many questions heading into the offseason after entering this edition of the playoffs as the top seed and instead firing manager Robinson Cancel after falling behind, 3 games to 1, and failing to score a run in their final game after winning a 5-2 Sunday contest in interim skipper Ramon Orantes' debut. More on that in a few paragraphs.
|Los Mochis third baseman Rodolfo Amador|
|Diory Hernandez homered for Los Mochis Friday|
Friday's Jalisco-Mazatlan series opened about a half-hour after the Caneros-Yaquis tilt, with the visiting Charros picking up single runs in the first, fourth and sixth innings to help Orlando Lara and the Jalisco bullpen shut out the home Venados, 3-0. Manny Rodriguez went 3-for-4 for the Charros, socking a solo homer in the first off Mazatlan's Casey Harman to give Lara & company all the runs they'd need. Saturday's game resulted in another Jalisco shutout, this time by a 2-0 count as the Venados scoreless streak reached 24 innings (including the final six entradas of last Wednesday's win in Obregon). Once again it was Rodriguez providing the key blow as the Charros' MVP candidate's single in the top of the third scored Gabriel Gutierrez and Alonzo Harris with the game's only runs. The two teams moved to Guadalajara for Monday's Game Three with Jalisco holding a 2-games-to-0 advantage.
TOMATEROS FIRE MANAGER CANCEL DURING PLAYOFF SERIES
|Former Culiacan manager Robinson Cancel|
The 42-year-old Cancel was a Major League catcher for Milwaukee, the New York Mets and Houston over four callups in a 20-year professional career. He spent his first eight summers in the Brewers system before moving on to stints in five other MLB organizations, two independent leagues and Mexican League stops in Monterrey and Minatitlan before his retirement in 2014 after a season of winterball with the Carolina Gigantes in his native Puerto Rico. He began his managerial career in 2015 with the Gulf Coast League Braves, finishing 11th with a 27-33 record for Atlanta's Rookie league entry. Cancel then led the Danville Braves to a fourth-place finish in the Appalachian League's East Division in 2016 with a 31-36 mark before spending 2017 coaching in the Rockies system. Cancel returned to managing with the Asheville Tourists in the Class A South Atlantic League last summer, taking the team to a 64-73 record and fifth in the Southern Division.
Cancel raised the Tomateros' fortune after being hired November 3 to replace Lorenzo Bundy as manager. Bundy's first term in Culiacan lasted eighteen games, during which the champions started 8-10 out the gate and struggled to find cohesion under the veteran skipper. Culiacan went 13-4 the rest of the first half to finish first at 21-12, then posted a 12-11 record for fifth place in the second half to end the regular season with a 33-23 overall ledger, tied for best with Hermosillo. The Tomateros picked up 12.5 playoff points, most in the LMP and good for a number one playoff seeding. Culiacan won the opener of their first-round series with Jalisco, but then the Charros won the next three and that was all for Cancel.
His successor, former Mexican League star infielder Oscar Robles, managed the Tomateros to a 5-2 win over the Charros on January 6 in Guadalajara before dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker at home before a packed house in Estadio Tomateros to end the series and season. Robles, who was fired as Obregon's manager in late October after only nine games, was subsequently hired on as a bench coach in Culiacan. He manages the Tijuana Toros during the summer.
XALAPA ONE WIN AWAY FROM VERACRUZ WINTER LEAGUE FLAG
|Xalapa Chileros shortstop Kristian Delgado|
Xalapa opened the title set with a pair of wins in Acayucan, starting with a 7-5 triumph on January 5 as Eduardo Arredondo and Yancarlo Angulo each had two hits and two RBIs for the Chileros. Rogelio Noris homered for the Tobis in a losing cause. The Chileros took another road win one day later, 8-6, as Angulo singled, homered and drove in three runs, although he did get caught stealing a base. Angel Francisco Rivera led Acayucan with a pair of hits, including a late two-run homer, but Kevin Lamas' two-run longball in the top of the ninth broke a 6-6 tie and Xalapa held on for the win.
Acayucan fought back with an 11-5 win last Friday in Xalapa. Luis Angel Santos' bases-loaded triple with two out in the top of the third gave the Tobis a 5-2 lead, but it took a five-run ninth to give the defending champions some breathing room in the end. Veteran outfielder Eliseo Aldazaba's three-run homer opened up an 11-4 Acayucan lead and while the Chileros did score on Oscar Soto's leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth, Tobis closer Jose Wilfredo Ramirez retired the next three batters to close out the game and close the gap with Xalapa at 2-games-to-1.
The Chileros opened the gap by a game with Sunday's 8-1 win. Besides Delgado's heroics at the plate, Kevin Flores (a longtime Yucatan Leones infielder during the summer) drove in Angulo with a first-inning single and doubled home Alan Garcia in the fifth. Another longtime LMBer, Marco Quevedo, earned the win in relief for the Chileros, tossing five-and-two-third innings after coming in for starter Daniel Lobato with one out in the first and allowing one run on two hits, striking out six. Acayucan reliever Jose Almarante raised an eyebrow or two in the seventh when, with two out, he hit three consecutive Xalapa batsmen to fill the bases. Almarante not only avoided any charged mounds, he stayed in the game, retired Alan Espinoza on a fielder's choice grounder to escape unscored upon and then pitched a scoreless eighth (although he plunked a fourth Tobis batter).
If the Tobis win Monday's Game Five at Xalapa's Estadio Colon (and they did, 14-4, as Heber Gomez hit a grand slam for the winners), the series will shift to Acayucan for Game Six on Saturday afternoon at Estadio Luis Diaz Flores. If needed, a Game Seven would be played Sunday afternoon at Estadio Emiliano Zapata.