They say that the fans like high-scoring games. But especially after watching the Rays over the course of a season, you grow to appreciate dominant pitching more and more. The start of the regular season is still two and half months away, but we were able to get a little taste of that on Thursday night in the various Winter Leagues.
Mexican Pacific League Playoffs: Algodoneros de Guasave 8, Aguilas de Mexicali 5
The Aguilas made their best effort to come back from a 5-run deficit in this one, but after Guasave starter Edgar Gonzalez had been so dominant, they just didn’t have enough time. Gonzalez, who turns 30 next month, is currently with the Houston Astros organization after parts of six seasons in the Diamondbacks organization and stints with the Athletics, Dodgers, Rays, and Rockies organizations as well. The former top prospect sure pitched up to that level on Thursday night, going 7.2 innings allowing 2 runs, only 1 earned, on 5 hits, striking out just 2 while walking 1 but also managing an 11-4 groundout to flyout ratio. His kryptonite was another former player for the Rays’ Triple-A Durham affiliate, Jon Weber, who went 2 for 4 with a double and the only RBI against him. The Guasave bullpen collapsed behind him, but Gonzalez exited with a 7-2 lead and the Algodoneros were able to hang on. Weber, who has struggled mightily in the MPL Playoffs, had a breakout day, adding a 3-run double in the bottom of the 9th to go 3 for 5 with 2 doubles, a stolen base, 3 RBI, and a run scored on the day while fellow ex-Ray Wes Bankston went 2 for 4 with a walk and a run scored. The Aguilas are going to need quite a bit better pitching to get past Guasave in this series (they lead it 3-2), but seeing Weber and Bankston have great games is certainly a good sign. But Gonzalez and Guasave stole the day in this one, and they’ll hope to stay alive when this series continues on Saturday night.
Yaquis de Obregon 7, Tomateros de Culiacan 2
Iker Franco had himself quite a day catching dominant Obregon pitching and finding some success at the plate as the Yaquis rolled to move on to the MPL Championship Series. The Royals’ Luis Mendoza was incredible, going 6.2 innings allowing just 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 12 while walking just 3. He was downright overpowering and never gave Culiacan a chance. At the plate, Barbaro Canizares and Carlos Valencia both had a homer and 3 RBI in the games for Obregon, while Franco had a solid day himself, going 1 for 3 with a walk.
Venezuelan Winter League Postseason: Cardelanes de Lara 9, Leones de Caracas 2
Daniel Mayora provided one of the few highlights in this game for Caracas, tripling in the second inning before scoring on a Bobby Abreu RBI single. The Leones got so far behind that they actually put in Victor Zambrano for the first time in the playoffs, but it did not go well as he allowed 2 runs on a hit and a walk in just a third of an inning to leave his ERA at an ugly 54.00.
Navegantes de Magallanes 3, Caribes de Anzoategui 0
If you’re a fan of pitching- and I would hope that most Rays fans are- this was quite a game. Carlos Zambrano was untouchable for Magallanes, carrying a no-hitter through 7.1 innings before it was broken up on a double by Twins prospect Oswaldo Arcia. Zambrano came out after ex-Ray Cesar Suarez singled with 2 outs in the 9th but still had an unbelievable outing, going 8.2 innings allowing no runs on just the two hits, only managing 2 strikeouts against 2 walks but also posting a 14-5 groundout to flyout ratio. Ex-Ray Jean Machi got the final out of the game for his third save of the VWL Postseason. Erold Andrus also went 1 for 4 with a double for the Navegantes. History wasn’t quite made as Zambrano came up short at the end of this one, but it was surely an incredible night for the fans in attendance and a night that Zambrano will remember and try to carry over into the regular season after managing just a 4.66 ERA in the majors the last two years.