Winter Leagues Update: Luis Mendoza, Mexico 3-Hit Puerto Rico to Play DR in Championship Game
By Robbie Knopf
Win and you’re in. The Dominican Republic won the early game and the opportunity was right there for Mexico. If they could find a way to beat the red-hot Puerto Rico squad, they would make it to the Caribbean Series championship game. They didn’t waste any time, dominating the game from the start to the finish and giving the Dominicans reason to be scared with the championship coming up on Thursday night.
Yaquis de Obregon (Mexico) 10, Criollos de Caguas (Puerto Rico) 0
Does Luis Mendoza understand the definition of pressure? Well, in 2012, he entered the season for the Kansas City Royals with his career on the line and delivered a nice season, going 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA, a 104-59 strikeout to walk ratio, and a 52.1% groundball rate in 25 starts, 5 relief appearances, and 166 innings pitched. But Wednesday verus Caguas was a different story. He was an established major leaguer on a team of has-beens. He was going to be fine no matter how he pitched. But that didn’t matter- his countrymen needed him, and he had to deliver. Mendoza proceeded to dominate the Criollos and a great offensive performance by the Yaquis made sure this one wasn’t even close as they won 10-0. Mendoza went 7.1 innings allowing just 2 hits, striking out 9 while walking 4 and posting an 11-2 groundout to flyout ratio. He had a no-hitter going through 7 innings, something even more impressive given the big layoffs he was experiencing as Obregon was scoring so many runs. Barbaro Canizares set the tone early for the Obregon offense with a 2-run homer in the second inning, Marlon Byrd had 2 doubles, a stolen base, 3 RBI, and 2 runs scored, and Iker Franco, who had been benched by the Yaquis after slumping in the Caribbean Series, was able to assuage some of his frustration with a 6th inning 2-run single. Obregon clinched a berth in the Caribbean Series championship game in resounding fashion. As a 3-3 team facing off against the 5-1 Leones de Escogido from the Dominican, it’s going to be a tough matchup, but after a game like this, the Yaquis’ confidence is sky-high and of course anything is possible in one game.
Leones de Escogido (Dominican Republic) 4, Navegantes de Magallanes (Venezuela) 2
Speaking of the Leones, they had already clinched an appearance in the championship game, but this game was very important because had Magallanes won, they would have to play a one-game playoff versus Obregon to see who would play in the championship game. It looked for a while like that happen, but the Leones showed off just how good they are with a late comeback as they came away with a 4-2 victory. The Navegantes got off a nice start in this one, taking a 1-0 lead in the 3rd when Cesar Suarez reached on a two-base error, stole third base, and then scored on another error, but Julio Lugo responded for Escogido with a solo home run. Suarez came up big again for Magallanes in the 5th, following up Renny Osuna‘s 2-out triple with an RBI single to give the Navegantes a 2-1 lead. But in the 7th, a huge error by Luis Nunez on a Hanley Ramirez groundball tied the game at 2. Through 7 innings, both teams had shown outstanding pitching. For Escogido, Carlos Pimental went 4 innings allowing just an unearned run on 2 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1, and then Lorenzo Barcel went 3 innings allowing 1 run on 2 hits, striking out 2 while walking none. Magallanes’ pitching was just as good as Sergio Perez went 5.2 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1 before Gabriel Alfaro allowed an unearned run in 1.1 innings of work, although he did record 3 of his 4 outs via the strikeout. With 2 innings left in the game, the game was down to a battle of the bullpens with the question being who would wilt first. In the end, it the Dominicans who came through in the clutch in the end, with Mets catching prospects Francisco Pena slamming a go-ahead 2-run home run in the 9th inning before Jailen Peguero nailed down the save in the bottom of the inning as Escogido won 4-2 and finished the Caribbean Series with a 5-1 record, 2 games better than the second place Obregon squad. But you can throw that out the window as the Caribbean Series will come down to one game between the Leones and the Yaquis, and the Leones better hope the magic they have shown the last six games persists when it matters most.