Baseball Mexico

by Bruce Baskin
July 5, 2016 - Mexican League (ML)

Paquin Estrada hired as new Saltillo skipper

After finding themselves in the unusual position of seventh place in the Mexican League's North Division with a 32-40 record, the Saltillo Saraperos fired manager Noe Munoz last Friday and brought in the venerable Francisco "Paquin" Estrada to take over the foundering club. Estrada began the season as manager in Tabasco before getting canned one month into the campaign.

Estrada (pictured), who is mostly known to North Americans as a catcher sent by the Mets along with Nolan Ryan and two other players to the California Angels in exchange for shortstop Jim Fregosi after the 1971 season, during which he played in the only game of his Major League Baseball career. South of the border, however, Paquin is regarded as far more than the answer to a trivia question.

The Navojoa native made his Mexican League debut in 1966 as an 18-year-old with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and went on to play until 1994, spending 26 of his 29 playing seasons in the Liga. Although he topped .300 seven times, he was widely hailed for his defense and ability to handle a pitching staff. Estrada caught a minor league record 2,847 games with 2,415 of them in the LMB, where he hit .275 with 2,706 hits, 84 homers and 923 RBI's. He also spent 30 winters in the Mexican Pacific League, including two championship seasons to go with the two LMB pennant-winners he played for during the summer.

He began managing in 1983 when he was playing for Campeche and ended up winning a pennant. Estrada's 1,567 career wins (including two of his first three games with Saltillo at Carmen over the weekend) places him second in Liga annals to only Jose "Zacatillo" Guerrero. Estrada has led three teams to Mexican League pennants (Campeche in 1983 and 2004, Leon in 1990) and seven more flags in the Mexican Pacific League plus two Caribbean Series crowns. He was inducted into Mexican baseball's Salon de la Fama in 2000 and the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 2013.

Munoz spent 25 seasons in pro ball as a catcher himself. He was 32 when he came to Saltillo as a player in 1999 and went on to become one of the squad's most popular in 16 seasons in a Saraperos jersey, many as the team captain, before retiring at 46 in 2014. Munoz played 2,060 games in his LMB career, collecting 2,059 hits (including 127 homers) for a .301 average. He played for pennant winners in 2010 and 2011 and his number 28 was retired in Saltillo last year.

Matias Carrillo now coaching in Yucatan after surprise Puebla firing

While Noe Munoz begins his job search after getting sacked in Saltillo, another longtime Mexican Leaguer ended his after a surprise firing last month. Matias Carrillo, a former Marlins outfielder and one of the top sluggers in Liga history, was hired last Friday by Yucatan as a coach under manager Willie Romero, who has the Merida club tied with Puebla for first in the LMB South with identical 53-24 records after the Leones won 17 of 21 games in June to eliminate what had been a solid Pericos lead.

Carrillo should be more than able to give Romero good advice in how to fight off Puebla over the final month of the regular season, since he was the Pericos manager up to the All-Star Break. All the Los Mochis product did was lead the Parrots to a Liga-best 38-15 record at that point, leaving his dismissal perhaps the least-explainable during a season that has seen even more firings than usual in a league not known for managerial stability in even the best of times.

As a player, Carrillo debuted in the LMB in 1982 as a 19-year-old with Poza Rica, hitting .309 in 99 games. After two years with the Petroleros, he was dealt to the Mexico City Tigres in 1984 and spent three years with them before his contract was sold during the 1986 season to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He ended up spending eight years in the USA (with a two-year return to the Tigres in the middle), hitting .251 in 104 games with the Florida Marlins in 1993 and 1994 before returning to Mexico for good in 1995.

El Coyote spent the last 14 years of his career with the Tigres in Mexico City, Puebla and Cancun before officially retiring in 2008 at 46 (he did play one game in 2009). In 22 Mexican League seasons, he played 2,113 games and collected 2,484 hits for an average of .335 along with 325 homers and 1,526 RBI's. He is not a member of the Salon de la Fama, which has not inducted a new member since 201, closed its doors in Monterrey at about the same time and now resides in storage while a permanent site is discussed and discussed and discussed.

Although he's been replaced as Puebla manager by former MLBer Cory Snyder, Carrillo will manage Los Mochis in the Mexican Pacific League's upcoming winter season, replacing Enrique "Che" Reyes, who was replaced as manager in Oaxaca one month into the current LMB schedule before finding work shortly thereafter in Tabasco to replace Paquin Estrada, who was just hired to replace Noe Munoz in Saltillo.

Sultanes maintain lead over LMB North field

The Monterrey Sultanes have won five of their last ten games to bring their Liga record to 50-27, good enough to hold a four-game lead over 46-31 Monclova in the LMB North standings. The Acereros have closed what had been a seven-game gap in part by winning seven of their last ten contests. Laguna (43-34) has heated up with six straight wins to pull past Tijuana into third place, knocking the 40-37 Toros into fourth.

Yucatan and Puebla continue to duke it out in the LMB South, both teams showing 53-24 records. The Leones have only lost once in their last ten games while the Pericos have won eight of ten. Defending champ Quintana Roo is alone in third at 46-32, six games up on 40-38 Campeche. Oaxaca has played better after an awful start, but the 30-46 Guerreros are nine games out of the fourth and final playoff berth.

Puebla's Cesar Tapia continues to lead the batting race with a .370 average as former Cal State-Fullerton outfielder Carlos Lopez' first year in Mexico has seen him turn in a .366 mark for Veracruz to pull into second while Oaxaca infielder Irving Falu, who joined the Guerreros early in the season from Omaha of the PCL, is third at .359. Quntana Roo's Alex Liddi and Alex Valdez of Monterrey are tied for first in homers with 20 apiece, Aguascalientes' Diory Hernandez continues to lead the loop with 75 RBI's, eight ahead of Mario Lisson of Saltillo, but Hernandez has not driven in a run since June 23. Former White Sox farmhand Justin Greene has six stolen bases in his last seven games to push his season swipes total to 27, five up on Tijuana's Dustin Martin at 22.

Monclova pitcher Josh Lowey pitched five innings of one-run ball Friday at home against Veracruz to pick up his 13th win of 2016 to maintain his lead in that department over Yucatan's Yoanner Negrin, a 31-year-old Havana native pitching in Merida via the Chisox system, who is 12-1. Lowey also leads the Liga in ERA (1.65), WHIP (0.93) and strikeouts (131). Given the LMB's 109-game regular season schedule, yesterday's 20-game winner is today's 15-game winner and Lowey is a good bet to reach that total by mid-July. Former Astros minor leaguer Arcenio Leon earned two saves last weekend to raise his total to 27 for the season, four more than the 23 of Puebla's former big leaguer Chad Gaudin. Prior to this season, Gaudin had saved a total of 28 games in 12 seasons of major and minor league ball combined.

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