by Bruce Baskin
November 18, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
MEXICO TOPS USA 3-2 IN TEN INNINGS; QUALIFY FOR OLYMPICS
Matt Clark's ninth-inning solo home run put the game into extra innings, but it was Efren Navarro's single in the bottom of the tenth that gave the Mexican National Team a hard-fought 3-2 win over the United States in Saturday's Premier12 Bronze Medal game at the Tokyo Dome. More important, the Verdes Grande's second win over the USA in the tournament meant that Mexico will make their Olympic baseball debut next summer in Tokyo.
The Americans sprinted to a quick 1-0 lead when Angels prospect Jo Adell socked an opposite-field solo homer off Mexican starter Arturo Reyes in the top of the first, but Reyes settled down to toss two-hit shutout ball before giving way to reliever Brennan Bernardino with one out in the sixth frame with the score still at 1-0. Mexico tied the contest up in the bottom of the sixth when Clark drilled a sharp bases-loaded single to right off reliever Daniel Tillo to plate Jonathan Jones from third base. Tillo had replaced Cody Ponce, a Pirates farmhand who whitewashed the Mexicans on three hits with six strikeouts over the first five entradas.
The USA regained the lead in the top of the seventh when Andrew Vaughn led off with a single, moved to second on Eric Kratz' sacrifice hit and scored when Bobby Dalbec singled up the middle off Jesus Rios to make it a 2-1 contest, a score that held up until Clark belted a leadoff four-bagger deep to center off American closer Brandon Dickson to tie things up at 2-2. Dickson got out of the inning without further damage and manager Scott Brosius decided to keep the former St. Louis pitcher (who's spent the past seven years with NPB's Orix Buffaloes) on the mound for the tenth after the USA failed to score on Mexican closer Carlos Bustamante in the top of that inning.
Using WBSC tiebreaker rules, Noah Perio was placed on second base and Jorge Flores on first to start the bottom of the tenth for Mexico. Jones led off with a sacrifice bunt to Dickson on the mound, moving Perio to third and Flores to second. Dickson then intentionally walked Esteban Quiroz to load the bases before being pulled for Caleb Thielbar to face Navarro, who blooped a broken-bat single to shallow center to bring Perio in from third for the walkoff game-winner. Navarro, who was 0-for-4 for the game at that point, fouled off four consecutive Thielber deliveries before delivering the coup de grace for Mexico on the eighth pitch in the count. Bustamante earned the win by hurling a scoreless tenth while Dickson was tagged with the loss. Clark finished with a pair of hits and two RBIs for Mexico while Adell singled and doubled for the Americans while contributing defensively with a diving catch of a Navarro fly to left field in the eighth.
After sweeping all three of their Group A games in Guadalajara, Mexico won their first two Super Round contests in Japan, including a 2-0 shutout over Taiwan last Monday in Chiba as Reyes and five relievers combined on a three-hitter while Ali Solis contributed a solo homer. The Verdes Grande followed that up with another shutout on Tuesday, this one a 3-0 blanking of Australia in Tokyo with Eduardo Vera and four relievers tossing a four-hitter while Jones and Clark went deep for the winners. Mexico then lost for the first time in six games Wednesday, dropping a 3-1 decision to host Japan in the Tokyo Dome despite Jones' second homer in as many nights. Then it was a second loss in a row on Thursday as manager Juan Castro's side fell, 7-3, to South Korea with Jones homering once again for Mexico, who finished third in the Super Round with a 3-2 record, including a Group A win over the USA (2-3) that counted in the second stage to set up the Bronze Medal contest. Japan (4-1) and South Korea (3-2) squared off Saturday for the Gold Medal, with the Baseball Samurai emerging victorious by a 6-3 score.
By defeating the second-ranked Americans, Mexico (rated sixth in the world by the WBSC prior to the Premier12) qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, marking the first time the Verdes Grande will play in the Games. After Saturday's win, Navarro was humble. "You must credit all of the team for this accomplishment, " he said, "including the pitchers and Matt Clark, who kept us in the game with his homer." For his part, Clark said, "We're going to the Olympics. You can't put it in words. It's such a great achievement as a country, as players, as coaches...everyone that's involved back home, the fans.
"It's going to be an amazing experience for everybody to be able to go there and show the world what we have."
YAQUIS TAKE LMP LEAD INTO FINAL WEEK OF FIRST HALF
With just six games remaining in the Mexican Pacific League's first-half schedule, the Obregon Yaquis have pulled into a two-game lead over Jalisco and Hermosillo in a battle for first place and the eight accompanying playoff points. The 20-11 Yaquis completed a three-game road series in Navojoa Sunday with a 4-0 shutout over the Mayos as Arturo Lopez and four relievers combined to hold the host team to three singles while number nine hitter Ricardo Valenzuela keyed a four-run seventh inning for Obregon with a two-run single. Jesus "Cacao" Valdez contributed a pair of doubles and scored once for the winners while leadoff batter Taike Sekine, an import from Japan's Yokohama BayStars, chipped in with two singles, one of them scoring a run.
The Yaquis have been led offensively by outfielder Jose Aguilar, who leads the team with a .358 average and 25 runs scored. Aguilar has had his share of misadventures on the basepaths thus far this season, however, and has been caught stealing seven times in eleven attempts. Obregon's power has been supplied by the triumvirate of Valdez, Paulo Orlando and Art Charles, who have six homers each and a combined 68 RBIs through 31 games. Orlando is second to Aguilar on the Yaquis with a .326 average. Charles has otherwise struggled to a .216 mark but his 19 hits have produced six homers and 21 ribbies. Sekine, a 24-year-old outfielder who bats left, has hit .282 since joining the Yaquis after the season started, but his most valuable asset may be his speed. On a team where no other player has more than four stolen bases, Sekine has 10 swipes in 11 attempts over 23 games. To put that into perspective, the rest of the Yaquis are a combined 10-for-27 in steals, which makes Sekine even more valuable to manager Sergio Gastelum.
The aforementioned Lopez has been the most consistent pitcher among a pretty good mound staff. His win Sunday brought his record to 3-1, his 2.04 ERA ranks third in the MexPac behind Navojoa's Raul Carrillo and Jon van Meter of Mexicali and Lopez' 35 strikeouts leads the league. While no other Obregon pitchers ranks in the top 20 of qualified hurlers in the ERA race, the Yaquis' team ERA of 3.42 is fifth in the circuit and their collective 242 strikeouts lead the LMP. Former White Sox prospect Ryan Kussmaul has been the primary closer for the Yaquis and while his 2.37 ERA over 18 outings has been fairly impressive (as is his limiting opponents to a .222 batting average), he's only got a team-high five saves for the season thus far and none since November 1. The Obregon roster generally doesn't stack up favorably compared to the likes of Culiacan or Jalisco, but Gastelum has shown over his short managerial career that he can figure out ways to win with limited resources and took an underpowered Oaxaca Mexican League team to the Fall 2018 Serie del Rey so the Yaquis shouldn't be summarily counted out either.
Los Mochis outfielder Noel Cuevas leads the MexPac in batting with a .371 average, just ahead of Navojoa veteran Christian Zazueta's .368. Jalisco first baseman Stephen Cardullo's nine homers is tops in the LMP with four players tied at seven roundtrippers apiece, while Cardullo teammate Daniel Alvarez (one of that foursome) leads with 27 RBIs, one more than Monterrey's Felix Perez. Rico Noel of Culiacan continues to pace base stealers with 15 SBs, while Tomateros teammate Sebastian Elizalde has 11. Elizalde has reached double figures in steals once in his 10-year professional career.
Yoanys Quiala of Los Mochis earned a win over Guasave Friday night to run his record to 6-0 in seven starts for the Caneros and still leads the LMP in wins. As mentioned, Obregon's Lopez leads with 35 strikeouts while Navojoa's Carrillo leads in ERA at 1.71. Ralph Garza of Monterrey and Trey McNutt of Hermosillo are tied at the top with nine saves apiece and Monterrey's Nick Struck's nine holds head that list as well.
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE standings (as of November 18, 2019)
Obregon 21-11, Jalisco 19-13, Hermosillo 18-13, Culiacan 17-15, Monterrey 16-16, Los Mochis 15-17, Mazatlan 14-18, Mexicali 14-18, Guasave 14-18, Navojoa 11-20
FERNANDO, 3 OTHERS INDUCTED INTO SALON DE LA FAMA
Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitching star Fernando Valenzuela was one of four new members who were inducted into the Mexican baseball hall of fame last week in Monterrey. Valenzuela was joined by Daniel Fernandez, Ricardo Saenz and Cuauhtemoc "Chito" Rodriguez at ceremonies held at the new Salon de la Fama facility, which was completed earlier this year and largely bankrolled by Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Oaxaca Guerreros owner Alfredo Harp Helu. The foursome were elected in 2014 and become the first actual inductees since a similar ceremony was held in 2011, after which the old Salon de la Fama on a brewery site was shut down by its owners and all plaques and other treasures were placed in storage until last spring.
Valenzuela, who now owns the Quintana Roo Tigres with his wife Linda Burgos, was the Mexican League Rookie of the Year with Yucatan in 1979 as an 18-year-old before being purchased by the Dodgers. He made his MLB debut one year later, going 2-0 in ten relief appearances in 1980. However, it was in 1981 when "Fernandomania" gripped southern California and baseball in general as the Navojoa native went 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA and a league-leading 180 strikeouts, winning the Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year while making the first of six All-Star game appearances as the Dodgers won the World Series that Fall, all at the ripe age of 20. Valenzuela went on to a 17-year MLB career and finished with a lifetime 173-153 record and a 3.54 record. While he likely won't end up elected to the other Hall of Fame in upstate New York, "El Toro" was easily the most popular Mexican player in the big leagues and is still beloved by fans south of the border.
Fernandez is a Veracruz native who spent 26 seasons playing in the Mexican League, all but one with the Diablos Rojos, and hit .315 lifetime (including sixteen .300+ campaigns). The 5'8" outfielder, who tipped the scales at 170 pounds, was never a slugger and hit fewer than 100 homers for his career. However, Fernandez was a productive leadoff batter who had enough gap power to stroke 388 doubles while his 111 triples are tied for third all-time in the Liga. He was also speedy enough to steal 479 bases (also third on the all-time list) and his 1,837 career runs are the most ever scored by an LMB player and nearly 200 more than his nearest competitor. Fernandez also managed Mexico City to a pennant in 2008, his first year as a skipper, but has yet to duplicate that success since.
Saenz was another longtime veteran in the Mexican League, as the Coahuila product patrolled left field over 25 seasons for several teams during his playing career, primarily for Saltillo and Monclova. Although he didn't hit for as high an average as Fernandez did (batting .296 for his career, although he did top .300 twelve times), Saenz had much more power and belted 296 career homers among his 2,453 career hits, topping 20 homers five times and once hit four longballs in a single nine-inning game. He also drove in 1,318 runs and had enough speed to swipe 102 bases. Saenz is the LMB's all-time leader with 496 doubles. Saenz also spent 21 winters in the Mexican Pacific League, knocking out 102 homers in that time.
Rodriguez is a Sonora native who made his mark in Mexican baseball off the field, spending over four decades in the front office as a general manager with LMB teams, primarily the Tecolotes and Tigres. He was in Nuevo Laredo from 1975 through 1994 before joining the then-Mexico City Tigres in 1995 and remaining with them through franchise shifts to Puebla and Cancun until his retirement in 2017, shortly after Carlos Peralta sold the Tigres to the Valenzuelas. Between the two organizations, Rodriguez oversaw nine Mexican League pennant-winning teams. He was also part of a player selection committee for Mexico in three World Baseball Classics (2006, 2009 and 2013) and represented the LMB for several years with Minor League Baseball, who named him "King of Baseball" in 2011.
Salon de la Fama director Francisco Padilla welcomed guests to last week's ceremony before turning things over to new Electoral Committee president Antonio de Valdes. Also taking part were Harp and Nuevo Leon governor Jaime Rodriguez as the four Salon newcomers brought the total number of enshrinees to an even 200. Mexican League co-founder Alejandro "Fray Nano" Aguilar, a sports writer by trade, introduced the Salon de la Fama in 1939, albeit on more of a conceptual basis. Annual inductions began in 1973 in Monterrey at a building on the Cuahutemoc Brewery grounds and continued until the brewery decided to shut down the Salon in 2012. There was an abortive attempt to resurrect the Salon in Culiacan a few years ago but it wasn't until the billionaire Harp stepped up to cover the cost of construction that a permanent home in Monterrey was opened this year.
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