by Bruce Baskin
October 31, 2018 - Mexican League (ML)
MEXICO SHOCKS JAPAN, 2-1, TO WIN U-23 GOLD CUP
Fabricio Macias' two-run single in the top of the tenth inning broke a scoreless tie and Erick Casillas got Kenji Nishimaki to fly out to right field to close a shaky bottom of the tenth to give Mexico a surprising 2-1 win over Japan in Sunday's championship game at the WBSC Under-23 Gold Cup in Barranquilla, Colombia. A capacity crowd of 6,500 at Estadio Edgar Renteria looked on as the Verdes Grande won their country's first-ever title in international pro baseball competition.
As one might expect from a game with a 0-0 score after nine innings, pitching was the name of this game as Mexico starter Carlos Morales limited Japan to a sixth-inning Taiga Matsuo single over his eight innings of work. The 21-year-old Morales, who spent both Mexican League seasons this year with Oaxaca (with a one-week stint in Mexico City during the Fall schedule), struck out six and walked none as he traded zeroes with Japanese starter Hiroki Kondo through the first eight frames before both were replaced. Ex-Yankee minor leaguer Rafael Ordaz, who now pitches for Monterrey, held Japan hitless in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
With WBSC tiebreaker rules in effect, pinch-runner Walter Higuera (Yucatan) was placed on second base and Orlando Pina (Oaxaca) was stationed on first to start the top of the tenth. Both runners advanced one base on a Bernardo Heras (Puebla) groundout before Macias, a Pirates farmhand, stepped to the plate and sent a Kakeru Narita pitch up the middle to plate both Higuera and Pina with the go-ahead runs. A Marco Jaime (Leon) single then put runners at the corners but the side was retired without any further damage.
Japan came back with a run of their own in the bottom of the tenth. Matsuo was placed on second while Ryosuke Kishisato on first for the Baseball Samurai before Ordaz' first pitch. Yasuhito Uchida's sacrifice bunt moved Matsuo to third and a Hisanori groundout to second scored Matsuo to make it a one-run game, with Kishisato moving to third. Ordaz then walked Kento Harasawa before being pulled by Mexican manager Che Reyes for Sergio Alvarado (Leon), who walked Kengo Horiuchi to load the bases with two out. Enter Casillas (Oaxaca), who worked Kenji Hishimaki to a 2-2 count before Nishimaki sent a fly ball to Jose Carlos Urena (Oaxaca) in right for the final out of the game and tournament.
Mexico finished the first round of the World Cup with a 4-1 record in Group A round-robin play, one game behind 5-0 Japan (who beat Mexico, 7-2, on October 18). The top three teams from Groups A and B advanced to the Super Round, where Mexico came in tied for second with Venezuela at 3-2 but earned the tiebreaker by topping the Venezuelans, 10-4, on October 25. Japan entered the Gold Medal contest with a perfect 10-0 record over the first two rounds of competition.
The Mexican batting order was led by Norberto Obeso (Toronto A) with his .500 average on 13-of-26 work at the plate. Roberto Valenzuela (Monterrey) belted three homers and drove in nine runs to head the team list in both categories. Francisco Haro (Campeche) and Luis Ivan Rodriguez (Quintana Roo) won both their World Cup starts, with Haro recording 18 strikeouts in 14 innings en route to a 1.93 ERA. Haro, catcher Pina and leftfielder Obeso were named to the post-tournament All World Team.
LARA SPINS NO-NO IN JALISCO ROMP OVER MEXICALI
Veteran pitcher Orlando Lara has largely been regarded as a quintessential Mexican mound journeyman. The 33-year-old lefty was the Mexican League's Rookie of the Year in 2007 after going 6-2 with a 4.43 ERA for Mexico City (guess you had to be there) and also represented Aguascalientes in the 2014 and 2015 LMB All-Star Games in the midst of identical 5-5 campaigns, so the Cosamaloapan, Veracruz product is not without his bonafides. His career record of 55-47 over 12 years in the Liga is not bad, although his career ERA of 5.02 is not awe-inspiring.
In other words, little in Lara's resume pointed toward his Mexican Pacific League no-hitter for Jalisco last Friday over a Mexicali squad with notable hitters like Ricky Alvarez, C.J. Retherford, Jason Bourgeault and Daniel Castro. And the thing is, his gem wasn't really needed as Lara blanked the Aguilas on a night where his Charros lineup exploded for 17 runs on 21 hits in a 17-0 laugher before 10,521 aficionados at Guadalajara's Estadio Charros. Lara threw 105 pitches (71 for strikes) over nine frames, allowing one walk and plunking Retherford while striking out six Aguilas batsmen. In his prior two starts for Jalisco, Lara was knocked around by Mazatlan for four runs on seven his in four innings on October 14 and pounded at Los Mochis for eight hits and six runs (five earned) over 3.2 entradas on October 20. Friday's outing lowered the 6'2" southpaw's ERA from 10.57 to 4.86. It was the first no-hitter in the Charros' LMP history.
Lara's performance was the sole bright spot of the weekend for the Charros, who lost to Mexicali Saturday and Sunday to fall into a four-way tie for fourth place in the MexPac with Los Mochis, Culiacan and Oregon at 7-7. The 7-6 Aguilas moved into a share of second with Navojoa, one game behind 8-6 first-half leaders Mazatlan. League offices usually prefer pennant races with many teams involved and it's hard to beat a one-game separation between first place and seventh two weeks into the schedule. Hermosillo has struggled out the gate at 5-9 but even then, the Naranjeros are only two games out of fourth.
Navojoa second baseman Alonzo Harris (an ex-Mets farmhand) leads the LMP with a .438 batting average, 30 points ahead of Mazatlan's Brian Hernandez' .408 mark, and his seven stolen bases heads that list as well. Another Harris, Mexicali outfielder David, is tops with four homers and 13 RBIs over 14 games. David Harris played four years in the Toronto system before hitting .331 with 23 homers and 15 steals for New Jersey in the independent Atlantic League this summer.
Obregon middle reliever Jesus Anguamea only needed to work a total of five innings to pick up wins in three consecutive appearances between October 18-24, but those three wins are the most in the LMP. Anguamea pitched 1.2 hitless (and winless) innings against Jalisco and Hermosillo last week to stretch his season-opening scoreless streak to seven appearances spanning 8.2 innings. Among starters, Jalisco's Elian Leyva (1-0) has the lowest ERA at 1.59 after tossing 17 frames over three starts. The 29-year-old Cuban expat gave up no earned runs in six innings last Thursday in a 2-1 Charros loss at Obregon that took 11 innings to decide. Mexicali's Vinny Nittoli struck out eight Jalisco batters one night later to take the LMP lead with 20 K's in 16.2 innings. Los Mochis closer Andres Avila has earned saves in four straight trips from the bullpen between last Tuesday through Sunday to go to five saves on the season, most in the loop.
VERACRUZ WINTER LEAGUE REBOOTS FOR 2018-19 SEASON
After an absence of two seasons, Veracruz Winter League (Liga Invernal Veracruzana, or LIV) has been resurrected for 2018-19 with six teams playing 21-game schedules over seven weekends between early November and mid-December, followed by two best-of-3 playoff semifinals over two late December weekends and a best-of-5 finals over three weekends in January. The LIV pennant winner will represent Mexico in late January's Latin American Series (more on that to come).
The rebooted LIV is headed by sisters Regina and Fabiola Vazquez Saut. Regina, an attorney, is the league president while Fabiola is vice president. The two are members of a family prominent in Veracruz' rough-and-tumble state political scene and to underestimate them may be at one's own peril. The six teams under their watch are the Acayucan Tobis (managed by Felix Tejeda), Cordoba Cafeteros (Alberto Joaquin), Jaltex Astros (Miguel Garcia Rodriguez), Ursulo Galvan Caneros (Angel Utrera), Veracruz Rojos (Ramon Esquer) and the Xalapa Chileros (Pedro Mere). Yes, THAT Pedro Mere, who led several LIV pennant-winners before hopping on the LMB and LMP managerial merry-go-round.
Acayucan won last winter's Veracruz State Baseball League title and went on to place second in the Latin American Series. The Tobis and Xalapa are the two holdovers from last season's four-team lineup in the LVEB, which was the brainchild of former Brewers pitcher (and Veracruz native) Narciso Elvira. The league ran on a shoestring for two winters and focused on young players from baseball-rich Veracruz state while trying to survive without government largesse covering payroll and other expenses. The new LIV will allow four foreign players per team while requiring that each club has at least one first-year pro ballplayer under 20 years of age on the field at all times. Women will be allowed on playing rosters as well.
The 2018-19 season actually started last weekend with a home-and-home series between Xalapa and Cordoba. The visiting Chileros romped to an 11-1 win at Cordoba on Saturday in front of a crowd of 4,300 as Xalapa shortstop Hector Hernandez singled twice and drove in three runs. The Cafeteros returned the favor on Sunday, taking a 9-5 win Sunday as 2,377 looked on in Xalapa as Cordoba's Efren Espinoza cracked a grand slam in the top of the ninth to break a 5-5 tie.
After the LIV's regular season and playoffs conclude, the Latin American Series will come to Veracruz' 7,782-seat Parque Deportivo Universitario Beto Avila, former home of the LMB Rojos del Aguila near the end of January. Begun in 2013 as a competition between Class AA winterball champions of the LIV and similar leagues in Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia, the Latin American Series is undergoing changes in relation to the larger Caribbean Series. Curacao was added as a conditional fifth member last winter while Argentina's champion is expected to join the fray in Veracruz for 2019.
The rebirth of the Veracruz Winter League comes at a time when the Mexican League has decided to not operate its own AA loop, the Mexican Winter League, after three seasons. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos' affiliate team won all three pennants, the last two under manager Victor Bojorquez. The Diablos topped the Oaxaca Guerreros, 4 games to 1, in last winter's finals. The LMB has not even mentioned that the six-team LIM has gone dark this winter on their website.
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