by Bruce Baskin
January 10, 2022 - Mexican League (ML)
BOTH MEX PAC SEMIS GO TO GAME SIX ON TUESDAY
The Mexican Pacific League playoff semifinals have been extended into a second week as a Guasave win over defending champion Culiacan on Sunday staved off an Algodoneros elimination while Jalisco defeated Monterrey the same night to bring their series back to Guadalajara with a one-game lead over the Sultanes.
Both semis began with splits of the first two games in Guasave and Guadalajara. The Algodoneros dropped their opener to Culiacan last Tuesday, 4-2, as Jesus Fabela's RBI triple broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the seventh. Fabela scored on a Ramiro Pena single for the final score of the night. Fabela, Pena and Emmanuel Avila combined for six hits, three runs and four RBIs for Culiacan while Manny Banuelos got the win after allowing two runs over six innings with six strikeouts. Esteban Quiroz homered for Guasave, who wasted a good start by Gino Encina (6IP, 2R, 6K).
The Cottoneers came back one night later to win an 8-7 thriller in walkoff fashion when an infield single by Marco Jaime off Tomateros reliever Sasagi Sanchez in the bottom of the ninth scored pinch-runner Bryan Araiza with the winning run. Guasave trailed 5-0 before scoring five fifth-inning runs to tie the score. Jhoan Urena had four hits for the winners while Culiacan's Ramiro Pena was 3-for-4 with a homer in a game lasting well over 5 hours thanks to a combined 39 hits and walks and 11 pitching changes. Despite allowing two runs and blowing a save, Matt Pobereyko was awarded the win after pitching the final 2.2 innings for Guasave.
The series then shifted to Culiacan, where the locals held off Guasave, 4-3, last Friday. Tomateros shortstop Jose Guadalupe Chavez set an LMP single-game record with 13 assists and went 2-for-4 at the plate, including an RBI single. That plated the eventual winning run in the sixth. Tomateros first baseman Joey Meneses opened the scoring in the bottom of the first with a two-run homer off Algodoneros starter David Holmberg for the 17th postseason roundtripper of his LMP career while Urena hit his own two-run circuit clout in the fifth for Guasave off winning pitcher Anthony Vasquez.
The Tomateros took a commanding 3-games-to-1 lead Saturday with a convincing 8-3 home win over Guasave. The Algodoneros gained an early 3-1 lead in the top of the second via run-scoring singles from Jaime, Quiroz and Yadir Drake, but Culiacan eventually regained advantage in the fifth when Meneses doubled in Sebastian Elizalde and Victor Mendoza blasted a two-run homer. Fabela's three-run longball in the eighth was icing on the cake for the Tomateros with reliever Aldo Montez earning the win with 4.1 shutout innings after starter Jose Bravo was chased in the second.
The Cottoneers fought back for a 7-2 win on Sunday to send the series back to Guasave for Game Six on Tuesday night. The Algodoneros scored five times in the top of the first innings as Angel Erro capped the outburst with a two-run double off Culiacan starter Manny Banuelos, who may have been distracted after earlier signing a minor league contract with the New York Yankees. The Tomateros plated two runs off Guasave starter Encina in the bottom of the first but the 6'4" Texan settled down to pitch scoreless ball between the second and seventh frames to earn the win.
Jalisco and Monterrey each took a win in the first two games of their semi set at Estadio Charros. The Guadalajara side roared back from a 4-0 deficit to tie last Tuesday's opener in the bottom of the fifth on Amadeo Zazueta's two-run double and Christian Villanueva's two-run homer before pushing ahead one frame later on Missael Rivera's run-scoring double. Villanueva finished the game with three hits, two runs and three ribbies while Carlos Figueroa and Ricardo Serrano each collected two fits and two RBIs for Monterrey as Serrano doubled twice.
The Sultanes came back to even the series last Wednesday with a 5-3 triumph. Jalisco pushed a run across in the bottom of the first when Jose Juan Aguilar scored on a Villanueva groundout to second. The Charros held their narrow 1-0 lead into the top of the eighth, when Monterrey exploded for five runs as Serrano contributed a three-run double to put the visitors in command. Nick Struck got the win for the Sultanes after pitching seven innings and allowing one run on four hits with one strikeout. Javier Solano (7.1IP/1R/5H) had a solid start for Jalisco but three relievers combined to allow four runs on three hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning in the fateful eighth.
Friday's Game Three in Monterrey lasted eleven innings before Jalisco pulled out a 6-5 win over the Sultanes. Monterrey plated three runs in the sixth, keyed by Gilberto Galaviz' two-run single, to take a 5-3 advantage but Jalisco scored twice in the eighth to tie the contest. Fernando Flores' solo homer off Sultanes reliever Nathanael Santiago in the top of the eleventh put the visitors ahead and Charros closer Roberto Osuna held on to strike out Fernando Perez with two runners on to close out the game. Osuna struck out six batsmen over 2.2 scoreless innings to earn the win for Jalisco.
Game Four on Saturday saw the Sultanes knot the series at two games apiece with an 8-6 win over the visitors. Monterrey took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks in part to back-to-back RBI singles from Nick Torres and Fernando Perez. Dariel Alvarez' two-run safety in the top of the third brought Jalisco to within one and a bases-loaded single by Aguilar in the fourth tied it up at 3-3. A Serrano two-run single keyed a three-run fifth for the Sultanes and Torres added insurance with a two-run singleton in the eighth. Torres and Serrano combined for four hits and four RBIs for Monterrey while Alvarez added a two-run homer in the seventh for the Charros.
Augustin Rios' three-run homer in the top of the eighth keyed a four run-frame for Jalisco to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 win, sending their semifinal series against Monterrey back to Guadalajara with the Charros leading, 3 games to 2. Jalisco starter Orlando Lara didn't get the win (reliever Jared Wilson did), but the 36-year-old lefty from Veracruz did his part by allowing one Sultanes run on two hits over six innings. Game Six of the series will be played Tuesday night in Estadio Charros.
GIL LEAVES MARIACHIS POST TO COACH FOR ANGELS
Benji Gil has resigned as manager of the Mexican League's Guadalajara Mariachis to take a position coaching in Major League Baseball for the Los Angeles Angels, the team he played for when they won their lone American League pennant and World Series title in 2002. Gil was hired along with fellow ex-MLBers Phil Nevin and Bill Hasselman in the wake of a shakeup of Angels manager Joe Maddon's coaching staff following a disappointing 77-85 season despite the presence of American League MVP Shohei Ohtani in the Halos' lineup. It's not known which position Gil will occupy under Maddon, although speculation has him coaching at either first or third base.
Born in Tijuana in 1972, Gil attended Castle Park High School in Chula Vista, California, where he was better known as a pitcher who tossed a no-hitter as a senior after leading San Diego County prep hurlers with a 0.52 ERA as a junior. The Texas Rangers saw him more as a hitter, however, and took Gil as a shortstop with the 19th pick of the 1991 June draft. He debuted with the Rangers in their 1993 season opener but was back in the minors for more seasoning and would not return to MLB until 1995.
After signing with the Angels as a free agent in 2000, Gil spent that season as their starting shortstop before taking on a utility role after the emergence of David Eckstein in 2001. He was a key reserve during Anaheim's 2002 postseason run and went 4-for-5 with a double and a run scored in their World Series triumph that fall against San Francisco. Gil eventually returned to playing in the minors, winning the 2007 Mexican League championship with Monterrey during a six-year run in the LMB before retiring as a player in 2012.
Gil made his managerial debut in 2014-15 with Culiacan, where he won six Mexican Pacific League titles as a player over 13 winters. He led the Tomateros to the LMP title his first season but was fired after going 28-40 in 2015-16. He was brought back one year later and won the 2017-18 Mex Pac pennant before resigning to spend more time with his family, particularly son Mateo, who was drafted by St. Louis in the third round in 2018.
Gil returned to manage the Tomateros a third time in 2019, piloting Culiacan to the last two LMP titles while reaching in the current playoff semifinals. Gil has received criticism in some circles for not winning a Caribbean Series championship in four tries, which neglects the fact that Culiacan had to survive the LMP postseason gauntlet and win the pennant four times to get that far.
Gil made his Mexican League managerial debut last summer and led Guadalajara to a first-place finish in the LMB North with a Liga-best 46-17, reaching the division finals before losing to eventual champion Tijuana. He was named Manager of the Year for his effort. Gil also stepped in late to replace Juan Castro as manager of the Mexican Olympic Team last summer, but the squad went 0-4 in Tokyo with Gil getting plenty of second guesses back in Mexico.
The 49-year-old Gil becomes one of the few Mexican-born former players to coach in Major League Baseball, joining Castro, Tony Perezchica and Ben "Cananea" Reyes. Among others. Reyes remains the only Mexican to have managed an MLB team, going 0-1-1 as interim skipper in Seattle during the 1982 season while Mariners manager Maury Wills served a two-game suspension for altering the batter's box at the Kingdome that year. Reyes' temporary work at the M's helm is not in the record book.
MAESTROS OF MEXICO: Arturo Gonzalez, P (1972-2003)
Arturo Gonzalez was known as "El Rey" ("The King") during a long career as one of the steadiest pitchers in Mexican baseball. Born in the Monterrey suburb of Tampiquito on October 29, 1955, he played his entire Mexican League career with the hometown Sultanes. He debuted in 1972 as a 16-year-old outfielder with Monterrey's Class A Mexican Center League team and was signed by Houston after that season.
Gonzalez batted just .161 with one double in 59 games for the Astros' Cedar Rapids affiliate in the Class A Mexican League in 1973 and after hitting .195 in 41 games for Cedar Rapids, he was sent home to Monterrey and hit .289 for the Sultanes in his 14-game LMB debut in 1974. A .236 campaign for Monterrey in 1975 and a .183 average in 1976 convinced the Sultanes that Gonzalez' strong throwing arm could be better used for pitching. After pitching sparingly in 1977, Gonzalez had a breakthrough year at age 22 in 1978, going 18-12 with a 2.57 ERA in 33 starts for Monterrey, including a 2-0 no-hitter against Union Laguna. The rest is history.
The 6'1" righty was equipped with a low-90's fastball and various breaking pitches, including a nasty slider. He was one of the Mexican League's most consistent hurlers ever, finishing his LMB career with a 232-169 record and a solid 3.26 ERA over 522 games and 3,228 innings. He reached double figures 14 times, plus 10-win seasons in both 1985 and 1986 for the Phillies' AAA Pacific Coast League farm team in Portland.
"El Rey" led the Mexican League in 1983 with a 1.92 ERA while fashioning a 12-8 record in 23 starts for Monterrey. He started one game for the Sultanes in 2003 before retiring at age 47 after 32 summers, including Liga pennant-winning seasons in 1991, 1995 and 1996. He holds all pitching records in Sultanes history and his number 22 has been retired by the team.
Gonzalez was no less effective in Mexican Pacific League competition. His 125-85 career mark over 20 winters puts him fourth on the all-time wins list on the LMP, while his .595 won-lost percentage ranks sixth. An ERA of 2.81 and 1,079 strikeouts in 1,831 innings also rank in the Mex Pac's all-time Top 10. He topped the LMP in winning percentage twice, took a strikeout crown in 1987-88, and spun a 4-0 no-no for Navojoa against Mazatlan on December 18, 1983.
Arturo Gonzalez won a combined 357 games in Mexico during a career spanning four decades and was inducted into the Salon de la Fama in 2009, his first year eligible. He remained in the game long after retiring, serving as Homar Rojas' pitching coach for the Sultanes in 2021 before Rojas and his staff were fired in June. Gonzalez spent the rest of the summer as a pitching instructor for Monterrey's academy team.
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