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01/08/2006 Archived Entry: "VIVA BEISBOL Weekly (Mexican Pro Baseball News)"

VIVA BEISBOL Weekly (Mexican Pro Baseball News) Jan. 8, 2006
by Bruce Baskin

Hermosillo, Guasave near series victories

In one of the tightest playoff series you’ll ever hope to find, the Navojoa Mayos eliminated the Culiacan Tomateros, 4 games to 1, in the first round of Mexican Pacific League playoff action. While the Mayos’ series margin of victory at first glance looks like a dominant performance, the truth is that the regular season champs had to fight for every win they got against a Culiacan team that was marginal at best during the season but came alive during the postseason.
Four of the five games between the two teams were decided by a single run, with three contests ending with a 2-1 finish (including Navojoa’s 2-1 clincher on Friday night in Culiacan). Not surprisingly, the Mayos opened by winning a 2-1 squeaker last Sunday at home as Jesse Gutierrez’ single in the bottom of the ninth drove in Aaron Holbert with the game-winner. That game seemed to set the tone for the series. While Monday’s 5-3 Navojoa win was a relative blowout in this set, each team only collected seven hits for the game as Oscar “Perfecto” Rivera was able to outduel Pittsburgh Pirates hurler Oliver Perez. The Tomateros were brought to the brink of a sweep Wednesday night by a 3-2 loss despite a nice 5.2 innings of work by Rodrigo Lopez, but came back Thursday night to win a 2-1 thriller despite gathering just four hits as Culiacan scratched together two runs in the bottom of the first and held on for dear life the rest of the way. The curtain finally fell Friday night as Mayos pitcher Mario Mendoza (who looked good in Sunday’s opener) battled for five innings and allowed just one run despite giving up five hits and as many walks. By winning just one game, Culiacan is eliminated for the “lucky loser” slot that Mazatlan was able to use to propel themselves towards a Caribbean Series title last winter.
Speaking of the Venados, they find themselves staring over the cliff after dropping a 4-2 game in Hermosillo Friday night in ten innings. It was the first tilt to go into extra innings during the first round, a homer-filled game in which Jorge Luis Valle’s two-run shot in the bottom of the tenth put an end to the proceedings as the Naranjeros took a 3-2 lead in the series. Mazatlan actually led this matchup two games to one before Hermosillo snagged a pair of home wins to send the series back to Sinaloa for today’s game. Hermosillo reliever Andy Shibilo has two wins.
The Guasave Algodoneros are also sitting in the catbird’s seat with a 3-2 series lead over Los Mochis, thanks in no small part to pinch-hitter Eduardo Arredondo’s leadoff homer in the top of the ninth during Friday’s 5-4 win over the Caneros. The real story, however, has been the continued success of Cottoneers pitcher Spike Lundberg. Coming into this winter, Lundberg was an unheralded 28-year-old Blue Jays farmhand who was a so-so 8-6 for Syracuse in the International League for the summer of 2005. Primarily a reliever the past few seasons, the 6’1” San Diego native joined Guasave’s starting rotation and went on to lead the MexPac in wins (9) and earned-run average (2.23) during the regular season. He has been no less awesome during the playoffs, posting two wins, including Thursday’s 7-2 win over Los Mochis in which he tossed 6.2 innings of four-hit, one-run ball.
The first round of the playoffs will wrap up this week, as Mazatlan hosts Hermosillo and Los Mochis takes the short trip to Guasave to resume their sets today. If a seventh game is needed, they’ll be played tomorrow night. The three series winners will move on, as will a fourth “lucky loser” team deemed as most competitive in their first round defeat by wins and runs.

This week, we make a visit to Culiacan, home of the Tomateros. Culiacan is a relatively short drive down Highway 15 from our last stop, Guasave, and is set a few miles inland from the Gulf of California. While its neighbor to the south, Mazatlan, is better-known among North Americans, Culiacan is itself a thriving city and the state capital of Sinaloa. The name “Culican” is an old native word which means “place where they adore the God Coltzin.”
A city of over 725,000 residents, Culiacan was a small village when Spanish conquistador Nuno Beltran de Guzman founded the villa of San Miguel de Culiacan on September 29, 1531. From the end of the sixteenth century and throughout much of the 1700’s, San Miguel de Culiacan served as an important staging area for the Spanish conquest of the Mexican West. However, independence was eventually won for Mexico in the early 1820’s, and Culiacan was granted the status of “city” in 1823. At that time, Sinaloa’s state capital was in Mazatlan, but was eventually shifted to Culiacan in 1873.
As with most of the MexPac cities, Culiacan is an agricultural center, surrounded by some of the most arable land in Mexico, of which the major crop is tomatoes. Some of that land is also noted for the growth of marijuana and opium, and the city has gained a somewhat unsavory reputation as a result. However, Culiacan is not unlike any other large city in the world in that there are places to go and places to NOT go, and a look beyond the dark spots will show that Culiacan is, in fact, a thriving and busy place with a fine State university in the city center, a lovely cathedral sitting three blocks away from the ubiquitous Mexican marketplace, and a fine collection of artwork at the Centro Cultural. There are beaches on the Gulf a few miles away in Atlata and El Tambor, and a number of places where one can buy food from street vendors. One of the most popular regional dishes is steak cabreria, which features six different toppings and side dishes and is definitely worth a try.
Something else worth a try is catching a Tomateros game at Estadio General Angel Flores, which is the largest ballpark in the LMP with 16,000 seats. The Tomateros have given their fans a lot to cheer about over the years, with eight MexPac pennants since 1967. Five of those came under manager Francisco “Paquin” Estrada, who also brought two Caribbean Series titles home to Culiacan. The city actually hosted the CS in 2001, the only time Mexico has held the event anywhere other than Mazatlan or Hermosillo in the eleven times the Series has been played in the country.

NEXT WEEK: Maestro of Mexico Roberto “Beto” Avila, infielder (1943-59)
NEXT Road Trip STOP: January 22 in Mazatlan, Sinaloa

Last issue’s Quiz answer: The only manager to win Mexican Pacific League pennants with three different teams was Vinicio “Vinny” Garcia. Garcia led title-winners in Culiacan (1966-67 and 1969-70), Guasave (1970-71) and Los Mochis (1983-84)
This issue’s Quiz: The legendary Hector Espino is the all-time career batting leader in the MexPac with a .329 average, the only player with a career BA over .300. Which longtime Mexican star (and former big leaguer) is second at .293?


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