by Bruce Baskin
September 18, 2018 - Mexican League (ML)
MONCLOVA, DIABLOS ADVANCE TO DIVISION FINALS
Monclova and Mexico City have both reached their respective Mexican League division finals for the Fall 2018 playoffs by copping first round wins in five games over Dos Laredos and Puebla, respectively. The two teams clinched their division semifinals Sunday with home wins. Being a host team has not been a guarantee of success thus far in the playoffs: Of the 20 games played through Sunday, ten were won by the visiting team. The most extreme example has come in the Yucatan-Oaxaca series, during which the visiting team won the first four games before the Guerreros topped the defending champion Leones, 5-1, Sunday in Oaxaca's Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.
LMB NORTH SEMIS: MONCLOVA 4, DOS LAREDOS 1
The Acereros won the first two games of the series at home before copping two of three games on the road at Estadio Nuevo Laredo to move on to the LMB North Championship Series. Monclova opened last Monday by winning an 11-10 slugfest thriller in which the Acereros' Francisco Peguero launched a walkoff solo homer in the bottom of the tenth inning off Tecolotes reliever Tyson Perez. Peguero, who finished seventh in the Liga's regular season batting derby with a .368 average, aided Monclova's cause earlier in the evening with a three-run double in the eighth. The Acereros followed up last Tuesday by topping the Tecos, 7-4, as two-time MVP Jesse Castillo and former MLB infielder Danny Espinosa each belted two-run homers to pace Monclova's attack in Game Two.
The series shifted to the Mexico-Texas border for the next three games, with the Tecos winning Thursday's Game Three, 7-2, thanks in no small part to Josh Rodriguez' three-run homer in the second inning. Former Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown (who cracked 27 homers for Philadelphia in 2013) aided the Dos Laredos cause by going 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored and another counter driven in. Monclova came back Friday after trailing 4-2 through the fourth inning to score six unanswered runs in an 8-4 Game Five victory. Castillo pounded a three-run longball in the fifth to put the Acereros ahead while Chad Gotta and Espinosa both added homers in the sixth and seventh frames respectively. After Game Five in Nuevo Laredo was rained out Saturday, the Acereros closed out the series with a 3-1 triumph. Ace Josh Lowey, who finished 6-3 in the regular season, held the Tecos to one run on four hits over 7.2 innings to earn the win as Espinosa capped a solid first round performance by going 2-for-3 with a double, run and RBI while Juan Perez socked a two-run homer.
The Acereros will next play the winner of the Tijuana-Monterrey series in the North finals, beginning later this week.
LMB NORTH SEMIS: MONTERREY 3, TIJUANA 2
The teams split the first two games of the set in Tijuana, with the visiting Sultanes using four solo homers to beat the Toros, 7-4, last Monday. Ex-Yankee infielder Ramiro Pena, a Monterrey native in his first LMB season, was joined by veterans Chris Roberson, Agustin Murillo and Jose Amador in going deep in the Sultanes' Game One win. The Toros bounced back Tuesday with a 6-3 Game Two win behind Fernando Perez' three-run home run. Shortstop Jose Guadalupe Chavez chipped in with a pair of hits, a run and an RBI as TJ evened the series at a game apiece.
The two teams moved to Monterrey for the next three games. Game Three on Thursday at Estadio Monterrey saw the Toros take the lead in the series with a second straight 6-3 triumph. Longtime Cuban National Team star Frederich Cepeda and former MLB infielder Jorge Cantu each socked two run homers for the winners and Chavez added three hits. The Sultanes knotted the series up at 2-2 by taking a 4-3 Game Four win Friday. This one came down to the bottom of the ninth, when Murillo followed a Pena triple with a two-run walkoff homer off Toros closer Daniel Moskos to send 13,423 Monterrey fans home happy. Sultanes starter Dallas Marinez, a Yankees minor leaguer who pitched in the All-Star Game between seasons while on loan to Leon before the cash-strapped Bravos shipped him north, had a strong outing by hurling 5.2 shutout innings and allowing just two hits. The Sultanes took Saturday's Game Five by a 10-4 count in a contest that was closer than the final score indicated until the hosts put eight runs on the scoreboard in the seventh inning, keyed by a Roberson three-run homer. Amador contributed three hits and two RBIs to the Monterrey attack.
After Sunday's travel day, Game Six is scheduled for Monday night in Tijuana. Should the Toros win, the deciding contest is slated for Tuesday night.
LMB SOUTH SEMIS: MEXICO CITY 4, PUEBLA 1
The Mexico City Diablos Rojos won the final two of three games in Puebla to finish their series with the Pericos and move on to the South Division Championship Series. The first two contests were played at Estadio Fray Nano in the nation's capital, with the Diablos winning both, starting with last Tuesday's 8-4 Game One victory. Newcomer Michael Choice, a former Rangers outfielder who joined Mexico City as a free agent on August 16, had a great night with a two-run homer, a pair of doubles and five RBIs for the winners. Game Two also went the Diablos' way, 12-4, with Mexico City posting a nine-run seventh inning. The Red Devils sent 15 men to the plate during that outburst, with speedster Carlos Figueroa singling, doubling, scoring twice and driving in two runs during the frame.
The series swung to Puebla for the next three games, with the Pericos picking up their only win in Game Three, 7-6, last Friday. Puebla benefitted from a Bernardo Heras solo homer during a three-run sixth inning during which the Parrots overcame a 6-4 deficit. That would be the Pericos' last gasp of 2018 as the Diablos came back to win the next two contests at Estadio Hermanos Serdan. Game Four began on Saturday before rain pushed its conclusion to Sunday, ending with a 7-3 Mexico City conquest. Outfielder Yeison Asencio, who hit .386 in the regular season, contributed a single and double, scoring one run and adding two ribbies to negate Delmon Young of Puebla, who went 4-for-4 with an RBI. Former MLB and NPB pitcher Luis Mendoza (who was MVP for the Pacific Coast League in 2011 and the Caribbean Series in 2013) got the win after allowing a single run in 6.2 innings while scattering seven hits while Diablos first baseman Luis Jimenez collected three of Mexico City's five hits, including a three-run homer off Puebla starter Josh Outman in the third.
The Diablos will await the winner of the Yucatan-Oaxaca series to learn who they'll be playing in the LMB South Championship Series later this week.
LMB SOUTH SEMIS: OAXACA 3, YUCATAN 2
Of the four first round playoff series in the Mexican League's second season, this one has been the most surprising. The Oaxaca Guerreros have won one LMB pennant (in 1998, two years after their inaugural season) and are rarely a factor in the rare times they advance to the postseason. Thus expectations were low after the Warriors beat a reeling Leon team in a one-game wild card contest after a 26-30 regular season to qualify for a first-round series with defending LMB champion Yucatan. Instead, new manager Sergio Gastelum has taken the Guerreros to within a game of meeting Mexico City in the division finals.
Oaxaca won the first two games of the series in Merida, starting last Monday with a 4-1 Game One triumph behind the solid work of Guerreros starter Alex Delgado. A Mexicali native in his seventh Liga season at the tender age of 23, Delgado limited the Leones to one run in three hits in seven innings of work, striking out nine and walking none. Older brother Irwin Delgado followed Alex to the mound one night later in Oaxaca's 6-3 Game Two win at Parque Kukulcan, tossing six frames of one-run ball with seven whiffs before serving up a leadoff homer to Eric Aguilera in the bottom of the seventh. Ex-Seattle shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who was second in the LMB with a .406 batting average during the regular season, had a pair of singles for the Guerreros and drove in two runs.
The series then shifted to Oaxaca, where Yucatan won twice to give the road team victories for the first four games of the set. After a Thursday rainout, the Leones took Game Three, 3-1, Friday as starter Cesar Valdez went seven innings and scattered six hits in a one-run outing. Yucatan catcher Sebastian Valle, a big-game player, contributed a run-scoring double while shortstop Walter Ibarra added an RBI single. The Leones evened the series at two games each on Saturday by doubling up the Guerreros, 10-5, in Game Four. Oaxaca was leading 5-4 after six innings before Yucatan scored two runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth frames to pull away. Ibarra and Leo Heras powered homers for the Leones and Humberto Sosa had three hits with as many RBIs as a combined 17 pitchers took the hill in the marathon contest, which took 4 hours, 21 minutes to complete nine innings. The Guerreros took their last home game of the series Sunday with a 5-1 Game Five victory. Once again, Alex Delgado was sterling on the mound for the winners by allowing one run on three hits in six innings, striking out eight. Henry Urrutia knocked out a two-run homer in the first inning as the Guerreros were up 5-0 after two entradas and coasted to the win.
The series moves back to Yucatan for Game Six Tuesday night at Parque Kukulcan, where Game Seven (if needed) would be played to determine who'll face Mexico City for the LMB South title.
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