by Bruce Baskin
February 8, 2021 - Mexican League (ML)
DOMINICANS COP SECOND STRAIGHT CS CROWN, MEXICO IN SEMIS
The Dominican Republic scored twice in the bottom of the sixth inning against Puerto Rico and went on to post a 4-1 win in last Saturday's championship game of the 2021 Caribbean Series at Mazatlan. The Dominicans (represented by LiDom champion Cibaenas Aguilas) won all seven games they played to win their second consecutive Serie del Caribe and 21st title in 63 tournaments since it debuted in 1949.
Hector Hernandez of Puerto Rico and Dominican opener Cesar Valdez, the 2019 Mexican League Pitcher of the Year, carried a scoreless tie through four innings until the Puerto Ricans plated the first run in the top of the fifth when Juan Centeno scored from second on Jarren Duran's single. The Dominicans tied the game in the bottom of the fifth on Johan Tamargo's home run to left off Hernandez, then took the lead for good one inning later when Juan Lagares drove in Ramon Torres from first with a double before scoring himself on Ronald Guzman's single to right. Guzman added an insurance homer in the eighth off reliever Fernando Cruz and it was left to 315-pound closer Jumbo Diaz to close out the tournament and winterball season with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Mexico, represented by Mexican Pacific League champion Culiacan and a large contingent of reinforcement players, rebounded from a 1-2 first round start to win their final two games in the opening stage to reach the semifinals. Jesus Fabela led batters in the first stage with a .364 average over four games, followed by both Jose Cardona and Julian Leon at .333 in four games. Leon swatted a grand slam against Panama to match Jesse Castillo (whose three-run bomb capped a 10-2 opening night win over Colombia) in homers. Leon and Castillo each had a team-high five RBIs over the first five games.
Pitchers Anthony Vasquez and Manny Barreda, who pitched for Culiacan during the regular season and playoffs, turned in the best starts over Mexico's three win. Vasquez allowed one earned run over seven innings in Wednesday's important 6-3 win against Panama and Barreda likewise let in one earned tally in six frames, striking out five during Mexico's win over Colombia on January 31. Hector Velazquez pitched credibly one night later (one earned run in 4.2 entradas) against the Dominican Republic but took the 4-2 loss as all three hurlers turned in sub-2.00 ERA for manager Benji Gil's squad.
During the tournament, the host Mexicans offered help to Panama's handpicked all-star team of domestic and foreign talent when the latter found themselves down two pitchers who were sidelined by positive tests for the Wuhan virus. Veteran hurlers Jose Samayoa and Walter Silva were loaned to the Panamanians with one caveat: Neither could pitch against Mexico in Wednesday's game between the two nations.
That condition was eventually relaxed and the 44-year-old Silva came out from the bullpen against his countrymen, giving up Leon's fourth-inning grand slam that put Mexico ahead in Panama's 6-3 loss Wednesday. He then tossed three innings of relief in Friday's semifinal game against the Dominican Republic, doing well until he allowed Carlos Paulino's walkoff two-run single with two out in the ninth to give the Dominicans a 3-2 victory, sending them to Saturday's title game. Samayoa did not pitch for his adoptive team.
Slugger Jesse Castillo was the only member of the Mexican team to be named to the Caribbean Series All-Star Team for 2021. The 37-year-old Castillo, who hit .293 with a homer and five RBIs to tie Julian Leon for the team leadership in the latter two categories, was selected by media as the designated hitter. The All-Star Team was dominated by the Dominican Republic, who took up six of the eleven player slots while Felix Fermin was chosen as manager. Two Dominicans, second baseman Robinson Cano and outfielder Melky Cabrera, are past Major League all-stars with 31 years of MLB experience between them while Puerto Rican catcher Yadier Molina has been a nine-time all-star during his 17 big league seasons with St. Louis. Another Dominican, outfielder Juan Lagares, was named the CS Most Valuable Player after batting .316 with two homers and eight RBIs.
Organizers held their collective breaths regarding attendance, with the pandemic still gripping all participating countries and the host Mazatlan Venados only allowed to fill 45 percent of Estadio Teodoro Mariscal's 16,000 seats for social distancing purposes, reducing capacity to 7,000 per game. Given the conditions, turnout was probably better than some observers expected, as 54,854 fans attended 17 games over the seven-day event, an average of 3,227 per game. A total of 40,465 fans attended 14 first round games between Sunday and Thursday (attendance at Wednesday's tripleheader opener between Venezuela and the Dominican Republic was not available) for an average of 2,840 per opening. Another 10,385 clicked the turnstiles for Friday's semifinal twinbill and Saturday's final between the Dominicans and Puerto Rico brought in another 4,003 aficionados.
As expected, host Mexico's games (all nightcaps) drew the biggest crowds, as 32,714 attended five first round games plus one Final Four contest involving Mexico for an average of 5,452. The semi contest against Puerto Rico drew 6,509 fans, the most for a single game while attendance at two of the morning tripleheader openers was 400 and 403. Crowds grew as the days went on during the opening round: Four recorded morning games averaged 555 spectators, followed by 2,407 at five afternoon games and 5,241 for a quintet of evening games.
Finally, the Dominican Republic has been awarded the 2022 Caribbean Series. The last time the Dominicans hosted the Serie del Caribe was in 2016, when Mexico's Mazatlan Venados won the seven-day tournament held at Santo Domingo's Estadio Quisiqueya. Dominican League president Vitelio Mejia Ortiz said, "It will be a pleasure to host all of you and we assure you of our best effort so that the Caribbean Series event maintains all its splendor in our hands. We hope that with God's grace we will have a less complicated scenario in relation to the limitations of Covid-19."
Venezuela is scheduled to host the 2023 Serie del Caribe, Puerto Rico will be the site of the 2024 event and the Caribbean Series will return to Mexico in 2025.
CARIBBEAN SERIES GAME RESULTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
DAY 1: Sunday, 31 January 2021 (First Round)
Panama 6, Venezuela 3 (Mayckol Guaipe allowed 3 runs in 6th to take loss in relief)
Dominican Republic 5, Puerto Rico 1 (Juan Lageres' 3-run HR, 2-run single led Dominicans)
MEXICO 10, Colombia 2 (Jesse Castillo 3-run homer capped dominant Mexico win)
DAY 2: Monday, 1 February 2021 (First Round)
Panama 9, Colombia 5 (Jordan Diaz went 3-4 with 2B and 2 RBIs in loss for Colombia)
Puerto Rico 3, Venezuela 0 (Hector Hernandez and four relievers combined on 2-hitter)
Dominican Republic 4, MEXICO 2 (DR's Juan Lagares hit second HR in two games)
DAY 3: Tuesday, 2 February 2021 (First Round)
Venezuela 1, Colombia 0 (Herlis Rodriguez' game-winning RBI 2B was Venezuelans' lone hit)
Dominican Republic 11, Panama 6 (Melky Cabrera hit 1B and 2B for 3 RBIs for Dominicans)
Puerto Rico 6, MEXICO 4 (Puerto Rico's Edwin Diaz socked 2-run HR, scored 3 runs)
DAY 4: Wednesday, 3 February 2021 (First Round)
Dominican Republic 2, Venezuela 0 (Robel Garcia's 2-run 1B in B7 broke scoreless tie)
Puerto Rico 2, Colombia 1 (Bases-loaded walk in B9 scored Johneswhy Fargas with winner)
MEXICO 6, Panama 3 (Julian Leon's grand slam in T4 put Mexicans ahead for good)
DAY 5: Thursday, 4 February 2021 (First Round)
Puerto Rico 9, Panama 8 (Jarren Duran hit solo HR, 2B, scored 3 runs for Puerto Ricans)
Dominican Republic 3, Colombia 2 (Rangel Ravelo's walkoff 1B plated Ramon Torres)
MEXICO 4, Venezuela 3  (Juan Carlos Gamboa's bases-loaded 1B gave Mexico victory)
FIRST ROUND STANDINGS
Dominican Republic 5-0, Puerto Rico 4-1, MEXICO 3-2, Panama 2-3, Colombia 0-6
DAY 6: Friday, 5 February 2021 (Semifinals)
Dominican Republic 3, Panama 2 (Carlos Paulino hit 2-out, walkoff 2-run single in B10)
Puerto Rico 2, MEXICO 1 (Rey Fuentes' 2-run HR in B4 held up to give PR finals berth)
DAY 7: Saturday, 6 February 2021 (Championship Game)
Dominican Republic 4, Puerto Rico 1 (Juan Legares 2B drove in game-winner in B6)
2021 CARIBBEAN SERIES ALL-STAR TEAM
C-Yadier Molina (PR), 1B-Ronald Guzman (DR), 2B-Robinson Cano (DR), 3B-Jordan Diaz (COL), SS-Jonathan Arauz (PAN), OF-Juan Lagares (DR), Melky Cabrera (DR) and Jarren Duran (PR), DH-Jesse Castillo (MX), SP-Carlos Martinez (DR), RP-Jumbo Diaz (DR), MGR-Felix Fermin (DR).
OJEDA BACK FOR THIRD STINT AS DIABLOS MANAGER
The Mexico City Diablos Rojos have officially announced the return of Miguel Ojeda as their manager for the 2021 season. This will be the former MLB catcher's third stint as the Red Devils' helmsman. Ojeda will replace Sergio Gastelum, who was dismissed last month after never managing a Mexican League game for the 16-time champions.
In a virtual press conference held at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu, team executive president Dr. Othón DÃaz expressed confidence in the new appointment: "He has the instinctive values and principles of the Red Devils organization," said Diaz. He also has the experience and knowledge to show the face of the 2014 champion team. For all that, we see him as a natural option."
Ojeda carries a 258-184 record from his two previous terms as Mexico City's manager, including their most recent LMB title in 2014, into his third time around. "Being on the field and sharing with the players the joys that Diablos Rojos del México offers is a facet that I missed a lot," he said during he press conference. "I'm anxious for the season to start at once." His last time managing the team came in 2017, a year before becoming a part-owner and front office executive in Durango before rejoining the Diablos as a vice president.
As a player, Ojeda played for the Diablos Rojos during the 1990's, belting four homers in one game at the old Parque Social Seguro as well as playing all nine positions in another game at Foro Sol. He became the first player from his native Guaymas to reach the Major Leagues with the San Diego Padres, also catching for Seattle, Colorado and Texas in addition to suiting up for the Mexican National Team. He hit .224 in 212 MLB games over four seasons, contributing 15 homers and 72 RBIs in 553 plate appearances, and played for Mexico in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.
In addition to Ojeda's appointment of the new helmsman, Jorge del Valle was named Sports Manager of the Diablos, replacing the departed Francisco Minjarez (who has joined the new Guadalajara Mariachis in a similar capacity). Del Valle has held the position of Director of Harp's baseball academy in Oaxaca since 2017. Del Valle was also in charge of two champions in the disbanded Mexican Winter League (LIM) and two more titles in the Class A Northern Mexico League with the Ensenada Marineros. He was also in charge of the entire Diablos Rojos scouting team, many of whom were let go during a front office purge earlier this winter.
"I know that I'm at home and I will take care of it as such," said Del Valle. "I'm very grateful for the opportunity that the Harp family gives me and we are going to work hand in hand with Miguel Ojeda to bring the championship home."
SULTANES SEND FELIX PEREZ TO JALISCO IN SIX-PLAYER DEAL
There's an adage in sports, at least among some of the more proactive teams, that "next season begins the day after this season ends." That certainly seems to apply to a pair of Mexican Pacific League teams who didn't wait until the conclusion of the Caribbean Series in Mazatlan to swing a blockbuster six-player trade in which two outfielders (one a former NPB performer out of Cuba) and a veteran pitcher were swapped for a trio of similar players.
Monterrey Sultanes sports manager Jesus Valdez Jr. sent recalcitrant outfielder/first baseman Felix Perez, speedy outfielder Jose Juan Aguilar and longtime reliever Fredy Quintero to Jalisco for outfielders Carlos Figueroa and Henry Urrutia plus reliever Linder Castro in a deal announced by Charros GM Rey Padilla and managing partner Armando Navarro, who is embroiled in a battle with former team president Salvador Quirarte that will likely end up in the courts (more on that next week).
A 36-year-old Cuban, Perez played three winters for his hometown Isla de Juventud Toronjeros between 2005 and 2008 before defecting and eventually signing with Cincinnati. He spent five years in the Reds system, including three at AAA Louisville, and later played with Monterrey and Aguascalientes in the Mexican League and in NPB with the Rakuten Eagles. Perez has also played winterball in Venezuela and Mexico and was Monterrey's top hitter (.270) during the Sultanes' first season in the Mexican Pacific League.
However, the 6'2" lefty swinger failed to come to terms with Monterrey this winter and threatened to go home to play for Isla de Juventud. Instead, the Sultanes loaned him to Obregon and later Mexicali, for whom he hit a combined .219 with 12 homers over 41 games. He'll likely play first base next winter for Jalisco.
Also moving to Guadalajara is Aguilar, who hit .322 and scored 26 runs in 35 games for the Sultanes this winter, his eighth in the LMP. Career-wise, the 30-year-old has hit .297 over 368 games in the Mex Pac. A member of Mexico's Premier12 team last winter, Aguilar has spent ten years with Reynosa and Yucatan in the Mexican League, where he's hit .307 in 803 games. Aguilar is a leadoff type batter who can get on base, steal a base, is more likely to hit a double than a homer and can also play all three outfield positions.
Quintero will likely fill a middleman role for Jalisco manager Roberto Vizcarra. He made 29 appearances from the bullpen for the Sultanes and went 3-1 with a 5.61 ERA. After spending two years in the Dodgers organization, the 33-year-old Los Mochis product made his Mexican League debut with Aguascalientes in 2012 and has pitched south of the border ever since. Quintero has worked mostly out of the bullpen in both the LMB and LMP with negligible results: He's a career 26-37 with a 5.95 ERA in the Liga while going 7-10 and 5.21 in the MexPac. He has a 93 MPH fastball, but throwing it for strikes is a sometime thing.
In return, the Sultanes picked up Figueroa, a 5'8" centerfielder who's one of the fastest players in Mexico. A 28-year-old from Hermosillo, Figueroa offers no power (he has yet to homer in seven LMP seasons) but, like Aguilar, he's a top-of-the-order hitter who can get on base, drive pitchers batty and score runs for his team. He hit .316 with Monterrey this winter and led the Mex Pac with 72 hits and 43 runs scored over 57 games. Figueroa has done even better in the summer, batting .320 over all or parts of eight seasons in Mexico City and topping 20 steals five times. Figueroa started as a middle infield but strictly plays centerfield now.
Urrutia will give Monterrey manager Gerardo Alvarez a steady bat with extra-base power and the ability to play first base as well as both corner outfield positions. A Cuban who spent time in MLB with Baltimore in 2013 and 2015, Urrutia starred with Las Tunas in the Cuban National Series for five winters before (like Perez) defecting after the 2009-10 season. He played five years in the Orioles system, was traded to the Red Sox during the 2017 season and made his Mexican debut with the Diablos Rojos one year later. He played for four LMB teams in two years, ending up with Saltillo in 2019, but has hit well above .300 both years. Likewise, he's hit .323 and .303 with a combined 14 homers in 118 games for Jalisco the last two seasons.
Rounding out the trade for Monterrey is Castro, a middleman from Merida who has struggled during the summer but done well in winterball. Castro, 29, is 32-42 with a 5.47 ERA after nine seasons in the Mexican League, where he was a back-of-the rotation starter until Aguascalientes manager Homar Rojas made him a reliever in 2017. The 5'10 righty has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen over five winters and 114 appearances in the LMP, going 4-7 with five saves and a 3.38 ERA. Castro pitched sparingly for the Charros last season (9 games, no decisions, 3.68 ERA), but should get more work with the Sultanes in 2021-22.
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