by Bruce Baskin
September 11, 2017 - Mexican League (ML)
Cyle Hankerd belted a pair of homers, driving in four runs, and starting pitcher Miguel Pena allowed one run in 5.2 innings as the Tijuana Toros defeated the Puebla Pericos, 15-3, Sunday afternoon in Puebla to clinch the 2017 Mexican League championship. In winning Game Five of the Serie del Rey, the Toros bring Tijuana the city's first Liga pennant. It was the second flag for TJ manager Pedro Mere, who led the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila to the 2012 LMB title. The Pericos were attempting to stay alive in their quest for a second consecutive LMB title despite having had their roster decimated by player transfers to Monclova during the offseason.
Tijuana 15-19-0, PUEBLA 3-9-0 (Tijuana wins Serie del Rey, 4 games to 1) W-M. Pena (1-0). L-Roenicke (0-2). A-6,954. T-3:13.
The Pericos actually led this one early. Julio Borbon led off the bottom off by getting hit by a Pena pitch, then moved to second when Pena walked Endy Chavez. Issmael Salas then grounded into a 5-4-3 double play but Borbon was able to advance to third on the play, then scored when Jesus Arredondo poked a grounder past second into center field.
Puebla held on to their slim 1-0 lead until the top of the third, when Tijuana scored six runs. Isaac Rodriguez started things off with a one-out single to right, went from first to third on Jose Guadalupe Chavez' single to left and scored the tying run on a Roberto Lopez sacrifice fly to right. Pericos starter Josh Roenicke then lost his control while trying to record the third out of the inning, walking Corey Brown, Hankerd (2006 MVP of the Class A Northwest League) and Jorge Cantu in succession, the latter forcing Chavez across the plate with the go-ahead tally. Dustin Martin then cleared the bases by launching a grand slam over the centerfield wall to make it a 6-2 contest.
The Toros posted four more counters on the scoreboard in the fourth to knock Roenicke out of the game and effectively put the contest (and pennant) out of Puebla's reach. With one out and runners on second and third, Lopez lifted another sacrifice fly to right, this time scoring Alex Liddi from third. A Brown single plated Rodriguez from third to make it an 8-2 score, sending Roenicke to the showers and bringing in Angel Rodriguez from the bullpen. The first batter Rodriguez faced, Hankerd, belted his second homer of the Serie del Rey, a two-run shot to right that brought the score to 10-2. One inning later, Liddi took Henry Garcia deep to left, giving the Toros a nine-run bulge.
Puebla got one run back in the bottom of the seventh when Alberto Carreon greeter TJ middleman Mark Serrano with a leadoff homer over the leftfield wall, but the Toros scored twice in the top of the eighth when Hankerd hit his second homer of the afternoon, a two-run shot to center off Julio Felix that brought in Brown, who'd just doubled off Felix. The Pericos scored once more in the bottom of the eighth when Cesar Tapia singled in Arredondo, narrowing the gap to 13-3, but Brown put an exclamation point on the Toros' playoff run by slamming a two-run dinger off yet another Pericos reliever, Fabian Williamson, to bring the count to 15-3. Jason Urquidez then came in and ended the game and Mexican league season with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth, with Salas flying out to Lopez to bring the 2017 schedule to a close.
While Pena's 5.2 innings were decent enough on their own merit (giving up one run on five hits, striking out four and walking three to earn the win), he had plenty of support as the Toros went on to batter six Puebla hurlers for 19 hits, including five homers. Hankerd finished the day with two homers and four RBIs while Brown was 3-for-5 with a homer, three runs and three ribbies. Tapia led Puebla with three hits while Arredondo and Ricky Rodriguez each had two safeties. Roenicke absorbed his second loss in the Serie del Rey after being knocked around for nine runs on eight hits and three walks.
After drawing crowds of 10,000 for every home game in both the LMB South championships and the Serie del Rey, attendance at Estadio Hermanos Serdan dipped to 6,954 on Sunday. Pericos owner Gerardo Benavides has threatened to move the team, perhaps to Nuevo Laredo or Juarez along the Texas border, one year after Puebla won the Liga pennant over Tijuana in six games. Benavides then bought his hometown Monclova Acereros last winter and shifted more than twenty members of Puebla's champions to his new club. The Steelers were a playoff team before the massive influx of Pericos stalwarts and a preseason pick among many to win the flag this year, but fell to Monterrey in the first round of the playoffs.
The Toros win caps quite a year for what has become perhaps the leading organization in the Mexican League. Tijuana home games were perhaps the loop's most-entertaining openings (finishing second to Monterrey in regular season attendance with an average of 10,872), the team sold a number of prospects they'd developed to MLB organizations during the summer and now the "Gateway to Mexico" has its first Mexican League championship team and first pennant winner since the 1952 Potros, led by Triple Crown winner Pete Hughes (.366/28/131), won the Class C Southwest International League crown.