by Bruce Baskin
January 14, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
JALISCO KAYOS DEFENDING CHAMPS WITH ONE BLOW
Usually when you're batting with two out in the top of the ninth inning and your team has yet to secure your first hit of the game, you're in survival mode simply trying to break up the no-no and avoid being on the receiving end in the record book. That's enough to worry about right there.
Jalisco's number nine batter, catcher Gabriel Gutierrez, faced such a situation last Tuesday in Culiacan, with the added pressure of his plate appearance coming late in a scoreless Game Six playoff contest. With Stephen Cardullo standing on second after drawing a walk from Tomateros closer and LMP saves champion Casey Coleman and then stealing a base, Gutierrez lofted a Coleman delivery to right that Sebastian Elizalde couldn't reach and motored into second for the first Charros safety of the night, driving in Cardullo with the go-ahead run. Sergio Romo then came in for Jalisco and retired the Culiacan side on eleven pitches to seal the 1-0 win for Chad Gaudin (who pitched a scoreless eighth) and send the Charros on to the Mexican Pacific League semifinals with the 4-games-to-2 series win. On the other hand, the defending champion Tomateros face many questions heading into the offseason after entering this edition of the playoffs as the top seed and instead firing manager Robinson Cancel after falling behind, 3 games to 1, and failing to score a run in their final game after winning a 5-2 Sunday contest in interim skipper Ramon Orantes' debut. More on that in a few paragraphs.
Los Mochis also closed out their series with Hermosillo in six games by taking a 3-1 road win last Tuesday night as Rodolfo Amador's two-run homer off Naranjeros starter Dennis O'Grady in the top of the second to give the Caneros a lead they'd never relinquish. Jaime Lugo and three relievers combined on a four-hitter to carry Los Mochis into the semis while Hermosillo packed their bags for the season. The coup de grace to the surprising early playoff exits for Culiacan and Hermosillo (a combined 27 MexPac pennants) was delivered last Tuesday with Obregon's 6-5 win over Mazatlan, courtesy of Yaquis pinch-hitter Leo Heras' walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the ninth off Venados' closer Brandon Cunniff. The Obregon triumph evened the series at three games apiece, assuring Wednesday's Game Seven loser a semifinal berth as the lucky loser by virtue of those three wins. By the way, Mazatlan won Game Seven, 3-2, as Justin Greene's three-run homer in the top of the third gave Venados starter Irwin Delgado and four relievers enough cushion for a somewhat anticlimactic series win.
The MexPac Final Four opened Friday in Los Mochis, where the Caneros were hosting Obregon. The home team overcame a 4-3 deficit with four runs in the bottom of the third frame with Diory Hernandez belting a two-run homer off Yaquis starter Arturo Lopez as Los Mochis went on to cop a 10-6 win. Hernandez had blasted a three-run bomb off Lopez in the first to put the Caneros ahead 3-1 and he went on to lead off the fourth with a double before coming in on an Esteban Quiroz longball. Los Mochis went up by two games by topping Obregon, 5-2, Saturday night. The Caneros broke an 0-0 tie in the fifth with four runs, two on Jonathan Jones' double and two on Josuan Hernandez' single, in support of Yoanis Quiala's (7 IP, 1 R, 2 H) third quality start of the postseason. Quiala is now 2-0 with an 0.90 ERA in 20 innings after going an unremarkable 3-5 and 4.37 for the Caneros during the regular season. The series will shift to Nuevo Estadio Yaquis in Obregon for Monday's Game Three.
Friday's Jalisco-Mazatlan series opened about a half-hour after the Caneros-Yaquis tilt, with the visiting Charros picking up single runs in the first, fourth and sixth innings to help Orlando Lara and the Jalisco bullpen shut out the home Venados, 3-0. Manny Rodriguez went 3-for-4 for the Charros, socking a solo homer in the first off Mazatlan's Casey Harman to give Lara & Company all the runs they'd need. Saturday's game resulted in another Jalisco shutout, this time by a 2-0 count as the Venados scoreless streak reached 24 innings (including the final six entradas of last Wednesday's win in Obregon). Once again it was Rodriguez providing the key blow as the Charros' MVP candidate's single in the top of the third scored Gabriel Gutierrez and Alonzo Harris with the game's only runs. The two teams moved to Guadalajara for Monday's Game Three with Jalisco holding a 2-games-to-0 advantage.
TOMATEROS FIRE MANAGER CANCEL DURING PLAYOFF SERIES
It's not unusual in baseball for a team's offseason housecleaning after a disappointing season to begin with the firing of their manager. It's quite another thing when the skipper is canned in the middle of a first-round playoff series while the season is still very much alive, if only for a couple more days. The latter was the case when the defending Mexican Pacific League champion Culiacan Tomateros jettisoned helmsman Robinson Cancel following an embarrassing 11-1 loss to Jalisco in Guadalajara on Saturday, January 5. The win gave the Charros a 3-games-to-1 lead in a series they'd close out three nights later with a 1-0 Jalisco win to send over 19,000 disappointed Culiacan fans home until next October.
The 42-year-old Cancel was a Major League catcher for Milwaukee, the New York Mets and Houston over four callups in a 20-year professional career. He spent his first eight summers in the Brewers system before moving on to stints in five other MLB organizations, two independent leagues and Mexican League stops in Monterrey and Minatitlan before his retirement in 2014 after a season of winterball with the Carolina Gigantes in his native Puerto Rico. He began his managerial career in 2015 with the Gulf Coast League Braves, finishing 11th with a 27-33 record for Atlanta's Rookie league entry. Cancel then led the Danville Braves to a fourth-place finish in the Appalachian League's East Division in 2016 with a 31-36 mark before spending 2017 coaching in the Rockies system. Cancel returned to managing with the Asheville Tourists in the Class A South Atlantic League last summer, taking the team to a 64-73 record and fifth in the Southern Division.
Cancel raised the Tomateros' fortune after being hired November 3 to replace Lorenzo Bundy as manager. Bundy's first term in Culiacan lasted eighteen games, during which the champions started 8-10 out the gate and struggled to find cohesion under the veteran skipper. Culiacan went 13-4 the rest of the first half to finish first at 21-12, then posted a 12-11 record for fifth place in the second half to end the regular season with a 33-23 overall ledger, tied for best with Hermosillo. The Tomateros picked up 12.5 playoff points, most in the LMP and good for a number one playoff seeding. Culiacan won the opener of their first-round series with Jalisco, but then the Charros won the next three and that was all for Cancel.
His successor, former Mexican League star infielder Ramon Orantes, managed the Tomateros to a 5-2 win over the Charros on January 6 in Guadalajara before dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker at home before a packed house in Estadio Tomateros to end the series and season. Orantes, who was replaced by Victor Bojorquez as Los Mochis manager in early December prior to hiring on as a bench coach in Culiacan, will manage the Tabasco Olmecas of the Mexican League this spring.
XALAPA ONE WIN AWAY FROM VERACRUZ WINTER LEAGUE FLAG
The Xalapa Chileros crunched defending champion Acayucan, 8-1, Sunday in the Veracruz Winter League championship series as a reported 3,000 fans at the Chileros' Parque Deportivo Colon looked on. Shortstop Kristian Delgado led the victors with a two-run double in the first inning and a solo homer in the third en route to a four-RBI night. The win gives the Chileros a 3-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-7 finals heading into Monday afternoon's Game Five in Xalapa.
Xalapa opened the title set with a pair of wins in Acayucan, starting with a 7-5 triumph on January 5 as Eduardo Arredondo and Yancarlo Angulo each had two hits and two RBIs for the Chileros. Rogelio Noris homered for the Tobis in a losing cause. The Chileros took another road win one day later, 8-6, as Angulo singled, homered and drove in three runs, although he did get caught stealing a base. Angel Francisco Rivera led Acayucan with a pair of hits, including a late two-run homer, but Kevin Lamas' two-run longball in the top of the ninth broke a 6-6 tie and Xalapa held on for the win.
Acayucan fought back with an 11-5 win last Friday in Xalapa. Luis Angel Santos' bases-loaded triple with two out in the top of the third gave the Tobis a 5-2 lead, but it took a five-run ninth to give the defending champions some breathing room in the end. Veteran outfielder Eliseo Aldazaba's three-run homer opened up an 11-4 Acayucan lead and while the Chileros did score on Oscar Soto's leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth, Tobis closer Jose Wilfredo Ramirez retired the next three batters to close out the game and close the gap with Xalapa at 2-games-to-1.
The Chileros opened the gap by a game with Sunday's 8-1 win. Besides Delgado's heroics at the plate, Kevin Flores (a longtime Yucatan Leones infielder during the summer) drove in Angulo with a first-inning single and doubled home Alan Garcia in the fifth. Another longtime LMBer, Marco Quevedo, earned the win in relief for the Chileros, tossing five-and-two-third innings after coming in for starter Daniel Lobato with one out in the first and allowing one run on two hits, striking out six. Acayucan reliever Jose Almarante raised an eyebrow or two in the seventh when, with two out, he hit three consecutive Xalapa batsmen to fill the bases. Almarante not only avoided any charged mounds, he stayed in the game, retired Alan Espinoza on a fielder's choice grounder to escape unscored upon and then pitched a scoreless eighth (although he plunked a fourth Tobis batter).
If the Tobis win Monday's Game Five at Xalapa's Estadio Colon, the series will shift to Acayucan for Game Six on Saturday afternoon at Estadio Luis Diaz Flores. If needed, a Game Seven would be played Sunday afternoon at Estadio Emiliano Zapata.
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