by Bruce Baskin
September 23, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
HARBER LIGHTS OUT AS MONCLOVA REACHES SERIE DEL REY
Monclova starting pitcher Conor Harber pitched 6.2 innings of two-hit shutout ball and Francisco Peguero's solo homer highlighted an Acereros' three-run fourth inning as the Steelers went on to win, 3-0, in Tijuana Sunday night to take the Mexican League North Division Championship Series, 4 games to 3. That outburst in the fourth was all the support Harber needed in earning the win while allowing only a Junior Lake single in the first and a Luis Alfonso Cruz safety in the fourth among 25 Toros batters faced (unfurling 98 pitches along the way). With two out in the bottom of the seventh, Harber walked Yelson Asencio and Monclova manager Pat Listach brought in Al Albuquerque. A Detroit Tigers' 2011 Rookie of the Year who pitched all or parts of seven MLB seasons, Albuquerque got pinch-hitter Logan Watkins to pop out to Acereros second baseman Erick Aybar to end the entrada and struck out the side in the eighth before closer Carlos Bustamente had a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.
After the Toros had copped the first two games in Tijuana, the series shifted to Monclova for last Tuesday's Game Three. The home team cut TJ's series lead in half with an 11-2 shallacking as Jose Vargas and former MLBer Eric Young, Jr. belted two-run homers for the Acereros. Young hit .315 with two homers in 27 games after Monclova signed him in late July, but only batted .143 (7-for-47) over his first ten playoff games for the Steelers. Former Rays MiLB reliever Spencer Jones tossed one scoreless inning and got the win.
One night later, Jose Amador's solo homer in the bottom of the eighth inning broke a deadlocked score as Monclova evened the series with a 4-3 Game Four win. Vargas (his second two-run blast in as many games) and ex-Angels shortstop Erick Aybar both went deep for the Acereros off Toros starter Terance Marin in the bottom of the second as Bustamante tossed a scoreless ninth for the save. Ricky Alvarez had a two-hit night for Tijuana, doubling in one run and scoring another.
The Acereros took the series lead with their third straight home win last Thursday, 7-2, as former Oakland catcher Bruce Maxwell hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Tijuana starter James Russell and another two-run roundtripper in the third off reliever Aaron Kurcz. Alvarez drove in both Toros runs on singles in the third and fifth frames. Wilmer Rios, who came on in relief after Monclova starter Danny Rodriguez injured his hand while issuing a game-opening walk to Maxwell Leon, was awarded the win for tossing 2.2 innings of one-run ball before giving way to Jones in the third. A third straight sellout crowd at Estadio Monclova (8,500 per night) watched as their heroes joined the Toros in the trek back to Tijuana for Game Six.
The Toros won Saturday night when they held off Monclova, 5-4, in front of 16,973 fanaticos in the border city ballpark. Tijuana took the lead in the bottom of the second on Asencio's two-run homer, but the visitors knotted the contest back up when Chris Carter returned the favor in the top of the fourth. The Bulls went back in front in the bottom of the fourth on Asencio's RBI single, then opened a 5-2 lead in the seventh on run-scoring singletons by Javier Salazer and Lake. Peguero singled in Beau Amaral and a bases-loaded walk to Maxwell pushed across Alex Mejia to bring Monclova to within one run before Kurcz (who'd walked Maxwell, his first batter) struck out Amador and Vargas, both swinging, to end the game and force Sunday's Game Seven.
Monclova will advance to the Serie del Rey against Yucatan, starting Tuesday night in Monclova after winning home field advantage for the title with a better overall season won-lost record than the Leones. This will be the third trip to the championship series for the Acereros, who are celebrating Monclova's 45th season in the Mexican League. They fell in 2008 to Oaxaca and in 2015 to Quintana Roo. Conversely, the Leones won their fourth LMB pennant over 65 years in last year's Spring season.
The Acereros have one of the Liga's scariest offenses, belting out a .326 team average with 196 homers over 120 games and featuring with such hitters as Peguero (.386/31/106), Maxwell (.325/24/112), Chris Carter (.293/49/119) and Rodolfo Amador (.326/19/102). Monclova will need all the runs they can get because their pitching staff doesn't remotely compare to Yucatan's. With ace Josh Lowey out since May, the only pitcher with more than 11 starts has been Rodriguez, who opened 22 times en route to an 8-6 record with a 4.73 ERA. The 36-year-old lefty has been a big game pitcher in the past, but was 1-2 with a 9.00 ERA in four playoff starts before getting hurt Thursday and landing on the Reserve List one day later.
YUCATAN SWEEPS MEXICO CITY FOR LMB SOUTH CROWN
The Yucatan Leones defeated Mexico City in Games Three and Four in Merida last week to complete a four-game Mexican League South Division Championship Series sweep of the hard-hitting Diablos Rojos. Yucatan, who knocked out defending LMB South champs Oaxaca in five games in the first round, now advances to the Serie del Rey and Tuesday's Game One.
The Leones won the first two games of the series in Mexico City before the two teams shifted to Parque Kukulkan in Merida for Game Three last Tuesday. Yucatan took away a 7-5 victory as Luis Juarez and Jorge Flores each cracked two-run homers. Juarez' roundtripper in the third off Arturo Lopez reversed a 2-1 Diablos advantage and the Lions never looked back, with Dustin Crenshaw giving up two runs in 5.2 innings for the W. Japhet Amador drove in four runs on three singles for Mexico while Carlos Figueroa had three hits and scored twice.
Yucatan brought out the brooms in last Wednesday's Game Four, completing the sweep with a 4-1 triumph over the Red Devils in front of a second sellout crowd of 14,917 at Parque Kukulkan. Jose Samayoa and three relievers combined to hold the visitors to four hits. Alex Liddi gave the Leones an early lead with a two-run homer in the first, but David Vidal made it a 2-1 game in the top of the second by singling in Amador from third. Liddi responded in the bottom of the frame with a two-run double to end the game's scoring early. From that point, Samayoa (one run on four hits over 6.2 innings) and the bullpen held the potent Diablos scoreless to vault Yucatan into the Serie del Rey for the second time in three seasons. Samayoa got the win while Mexico City starter Patrick Johnson, who gave up both of Liddi's two-run hits, absorbed the loss. Liddi later added a single and ended the night 3-for-5 for the winners.
The Leones have shown unusual (for them) power this year, as eight batters reached double figures in homers, led by Leo Heras' 15, en route to 126 bombs during the regular season. Among the leaders in the power surge has been June free-agent signee Liddi, an ex-Seattle corner infielder who hit .344 with 12 homers and 66 RBIs in 59 games. The Italian National team stalwart has hit .359 with three homers and 11 RBIs in nine playoff games for Yucatan. The Lions have always relied on good pitching and while 2019 was a down year for hurlers across the LMB, the Merida club did finish second to Tijuana with a team ERA of 4.45 (the Toros turned in a 4.41 mark) while giving up both the fewest homers (100) and walks (311). Manager Geronimo Gil comes off the elimination of his former team and will bring four All-Star quality starters into the Serie del Rey against Monclova: Cesar Valdez (15-2/2.26), Yoanner Negrin (13-6/3.22), Samayoa (9-5/4.05) and Crenshaw (5-1/2.72 over seven starts).
While the Diablos headed back to the nation's capital in disappointment, it's been a good year for baseball in Mexico City. The March 23 opener of the new Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu kicked things off as the San Diego Padres beating the Diablos Rojos, 11-2, as a full house of 20,000 looked on. Baseball devotee Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador became the first Mexican president since Miguel Aleman in 1947 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at an LMB ballpark opener. The next afternoon saw another sellout witness a 9-6 Padres win, although 2018 Southern League batting champion Kevin Medrano became the first Diablos player to homer in the new facility. Mexico City also hosted the Mexican League All-Star Game (another sellout) while the Diablos drew 389,641 fans over the regular season for an average of 7,216, good for fourth in the Liga. Mexico City led the league with a .330 team batting average en route to an overall 67-49 record, best in the LMB South.
EL TITAN: "IF I RETURN TO LMP, I RETURN WITH VENADOS"
Perhaps as a reply to rumors that he might play winterball in Culiacan this season, five-time Major League All-Star Adrian Gonzalez has tweeted that he would prefer the same team he's always played Mexican Pacific League ball with: the Mazatlan Venados. A four-time Gold Glove first baseman with two Silver Slugger awards during his 15-year MLB career, Gonzalez tweeted last Friday: "I really doubt that I can play with the Tomateros. Great team with a lot of history. But I've always said it. If I return to LMP, I return with Venados."
According to an ElFildeo.com writer only identified as Otero (maybe longtime Laredo Morning Times sports editor and former Baseball America scribe Salo Otero?), "Much has been said, specialted and written about Adrian Gonzalez, whether he is retired or not from baseball, if he will play in the LMP in the 2019-2020 campaign, if he will do so with the Charros de Jalisco, even if he is also going to play with Mexico in the Premier12 tournament." For the record, while the 37-year-old has only played in the LMP for Mazatlan, he does not appear on a protected roster for any of the Mex Pac's ten teams and is free to make a deal with any team of his choosing.
The San Diego-born "El Titan," Gonzalez spent a few years growing up across the border in Tijuana, where he and older brother Edgar learned baseball from their father, former Mexican National Team member David Gonzalez. With Edgar manning second base, the Gonzalez brothers played side-by-side with Mazatlan a number of times during the '00s before becoming the first Mexican brother duo to play together in MLB with San Diego in 2009. Adrian went on to play for Boston, the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets before recurring back issues shelved him last season after he hit .237 with six homers before the Mets released him in June 2018. In his MLB career, Gonzalez batted .287 on 2,050 hits, including 317 homers and 1,202 RBIs over 1,989 games. He has not played in a game since going 0-for-3 on June 10, 2018, when the Mets hosted the crosstown rival Yankees at Flushing Meadows.
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