Henderson Alvarez of the Leones de Yucatan is helped off the field after being struck in the leg by a ground ball in the fourth inning of the Leones’ opener at the 2023 Baseball Champions League. (Photo Courtesy of WBSC)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
MERIDA, Mexico – The drones were flying, and traditional dancers performed on the infield during the opening ceremonies for the Baseball Champions League Thursday night at Parque Kukulkan Alamo in a celebration of baseball and the cultures of the four countries represented.
But at the end of the night, it wasn’t much of a celebration for the Leones de Yucatan, who lost starter Henderson Alvarez to an injury in the top of the fourth, and a pair of errors that immediately followed allowed the Caimanes de Barranquilla to grab a 4-1 lead that held up, as the Colombian entry held on for a 5-3 victory.
“Nobody likes to lose, right? But, well, it was a game where we lost by one run,” Yucatan manager Roberto Vizcarra said following the game. “We had some bad defense which cost us four runs.”
In the bottom of the third, Marco Jaime ripped a one-out double for Yucatan, his ground ball rolling fair past the first base bag and slicing into foul territory. Two batters later, Jamie raced home from second on Josh Fuentes’ single to left field, giving Yucatan a 1-0 lead.
As a light rain began to fall, Osman Marval led off the top of the fourth for Barranquilla with a double. Two batters later, Pavel Manzanero ripped a hot shot back to the box that drilled Yucatan starter Alvarez in the lower right leg, leaving him on the ground writhing in pain. Marval scored from second as the throw from shortstop Marco Jaime went past first baseman JC Escarra, allowing Manzanero to reach third.
After a short delay, Alvarez was helped off the field, unable to put weight on his right leg, and he was replaced by Isaac Jimenez.
“Everything is fine, thank God,” Vizcarra said of Alvarez in the postgame press conference. “He had a blow to the side of his leg… It was a very strong blow, and I had to get out of the game, but thank God.”
And then, suddenly, following the injury to Alvarez, the Leones fielders were declawed. Dilson Herrera reached on a throwing error by third baseman Fuentes, and then second baseman Jonathan Villar couldn’t handle a hot grounder by Jesus Marriaga, which got through to the outfield grass, giving Barranquilla runners at first and second with one out. Edwin Garcia hit a shallow pop fly between Yucatan first baseman JC Escarra and right fielder Yadir Drake, allowing two runs to score when the ball fell to the turf, giving the Caimanes a 4-1 lead.
“You have a game plan, and the initial plan was for Alvarez to go five or six innings. Our staff is one of the best parts of our club, so we can handle it,” Vizcarra said. “But the injury comes… and it gets us a little bit confused in the sense that now you have to use plan b to get through the fourth or fifth.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Yadir Drake followed Escarra’s double with a high fly ball to center that carried over the wall for a two-run homer, cutting the Barranquilla lead to 4-3.
But that was all Yucatan could muster.
The Caimanes added an insurance run in the top of the ninth, and then brought in Elgin Alcala, who faced four batters and struck out two to earn the save.
NOTEBOOK: Barranquilla will face the Alazanes de Granma Friday afternoon, and will start Carlos Ocampo against Granma’s Raymond Figuredo. Asked what he knew of the players Granma brought to the event, Barranquilla manager Carlos Vidal said, “As usual, it is based on the information we have from Cuba, but we have a plan.” … JC Escarra went 3-for-3 with two doubles, a walk, and a run scored for Yucatan. The Leones will face the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Friday night, with Liga Mexicana de Beisbol veteran Wilmer Rios on the hill for Yucatan against Colten Davis for the RedHawks.