by Bruce Baskin
September 7, 2017 - Mexican League (ML)
Roberto Lopez lined a two-run double and then scored on Corey Brown's single to key Tijuana's six-run outburst in the bottom of the sixth inning, blowing open a 2-2 ballgame as the Toros went on to defeat the visiting Puebla Pericos, 8-2, Tuesday night in the opening game of the Mexican League's Serie del Rey championship finals. A crowd of 15,105 at Estadio Gasmart saw the Toros send ten batters to the plate against the defending LMB champions in the sixth, facing four pitchers in the frame.
Puebla starting pitcher Josh Roenicke and TJ starter Miguel Pena carried a duel shutout into the bottom of the third, when the Pericos defense handed the Toros the first run of the game. After leading off with a single and moving to second when Roenicke walked Alex Liddi, Juan Apodaca stood a few steps away from the bag towards third while Isaac Rodriguez when Pericos catcher Cesar Tapia uncorked a throw down to shortstop Alberto Carreon, who was covering second on the play. Carreon dropped Tapia's throw, however, and Apodaca scampered safely down to third and later came in to score on a Lopez sacrifice fly to center field. The Bulls added a run in the bottom of the fourth when Cyle Hankerd led off with a double, took third on a Jorge Cantu single and then scored on a Roenicke wild pitch to Dustin Martin to give Tijuana a 2-0 lead.
Pena was working on a one-hit shutout in the top of the fifth when the defending champs scored their first run of the game when Sergio Perez stroked a one-out single and then motored around the bases to hit paydirt when Carreon doubled to make amends for his third inning defensive gaffe. The Pericos were able to knot the score up at 2-2 in the top of the sixth when leadoff batter Issmael Salas reached base when Tijuana second sacker Rodriguez muffed his ground ball, advancing to second on the play. Jesus Arredondo's single sent Salas to third and another safety by Ricky Rodriguez sent Salas in with the tying run.
However, what had been a fairly tight (if not the most aesthetically pleasing) game was blown wide open with the Toros' six-run sixth. After Cantu opened the frame by grounding out, Martin drew a walk from Roenicke and then stole second while Apodaca was batting. Apodaca then lined a single to left, scoring Martin from second while Apodaca scooted to second on Perez' throw to Tapia at home. That was enough for Roenicke after 95 pitches, as Puebla skipper Tim Johnson brought in Mario Morales from the bullpen. Morales got Liddi to fly to center for the second out of the inning before walking Rodriguez. Exit Morales, enter Henry Garcia, who gave up a bases-loaded single to Jose Guadalupe Chavez, scoring Apodaca with the go-ahead run. Exit Garcia, enter Julio Felix, who coughed up Lopez' two-run double and a Corey Brown single that scored Lopez from second to make it a 7-2 game. Brown then stole second and scored on a Hankerd single to left, putting the Toros up by six.
After that, it was left to a combination of TJ relievers Carlos Hernandez, Pedro Villareal and Edwin Quirate to each contribute a hitless inning and close out the game, with pinch-hitter Jon Del Campo grounding out to Cantu at first for the final out of the contest. Although Pena gave Toros manager a solid five-inning start, allowing one earned run on four hits and two walks, the win went to reliever Jo-Jo Reyes, who recorded the last two outs of the top of the sixth before his teammates put the final six runs of the game on the board in the bottom of the entrada. Roenicke absorbed the loss for Puebla, giving up four runs (three earned) on six hits and four walks in 5.1 innings of work, striking out seven. Hankerd finished the night 3-for-5 at the plate, scoring one run and driving in another, while Lopez ended up with three RBIs for the game while Arredondo had two of Puebla's five hits.
Game Two is slated for Wednesday night in Tijuana. Jaime Lugo will be on the mound for Puebla while Alex Sanabia, who allowed one run over 14 innings in two starts (both wins) against Monterrey is scheduled to take the hill for the Toros. Thursday will be a travel day before the series resumes in Puebla. While the Pericos seek to repeat their 2016 pennant with only seven players back from last year's champions, the Toros are looking for Tijuana's first Mexican League title.