The journey from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, was a trying one for Mexico’s Pony League World Series team. With little money and resources, a local sponsor donated a bus for 13 players and three coaches to travel over 2,500 miles to Washington.
The trip took 70 hours and there was no hotel stay on Los Mochis’ itinerary. Everyone slept in the bus until they arrived at the team hotel on Racetrack Road at 2 a.m. Friday morning.
When Los Mochis finally opened World Series play Sunday afternoon against Washington, manager Gabriel Gamboa did not want to take the opponent lightly. He wanted his ace pitcher to make a statement with a victory.
Los Mochis did not show any signs fatigue. Pitcher José Luis Manzanarez threw a complete game with 11 strikeouts and drove in two runs as Mexico defeated Washington, 7-1, at Lew Hays Pony Field.
Mexico will face Hilo, Hawaii, at 8 p.m. today, and Washington will play the winner of Chesterfield County, Va. and Brno, Czech Republic at 12:30 p.m. in an elimination game.
“Having all that time off, I had to go with (Manzanarez),” Gamboa said. “It was very important to win this first game. We knew we were facing a hard-playing team. We’re happy the outcome was in our favor.”
Manzanarez’s opponent on the mound, Washington right-hander Kyle Steele, equalled Manzanarez at times, but a defensive lapse in the second inning cost Washington.
Mexico took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when second baseman Christian German Villegas hit a lead-off single and shortstop Javier Guadalupe Sanchez followed with a double off the right field fence. Third baseman Ivan Gerardo Cota hit a 3-2 fastball to center field for a two-run single.
“We had to come out here and win to build some confidence,” Manzanarez said. “The journey was very difficult. We stayed on the bus and could not wait to arrive. I’m very happy for myself and my team with the result of the game.”
In the second inning, Mexico loaded the bases on a single and two walks before Manzanarez came to the plate. The righty hit the third pitch of the at-bat through the hole between third and short. Two runs came around to score and Washington left fielder Brett Shaver mishandled the ball to allow another run to score as Mexico took a 5-0 lead.
“(Steele) pitched great, but those mistakes deteriorated him a bit,” Washington manager Jay Murphy said. “His composure is great. He stuck with it and that’s why he’s one of our top pitchers. It was a very well-played game.”
Steele was exceptional for the rest of the way. He struck out seven batters and retired 10 of 12 hitters until he allowed one run in the bottom of the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Sanchez.
Using a fastball and a strong curveball, Manzanaerz showed no signs of slowing down. He had a stretch where he retired 14 of 15 and did not allow a run until the sixth inning. Shortstop Logan DeFillippo and Steele hit one-out singles in the top of the sixth inning and both advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch.
First baseman Tanner Hudak hit a slow grounder to short, scoring DeFillippo, but Manzanarez struck out Jared Embert to end the inning. Washington did not lack opportunities. The team stranded six runners, five of which were in scoring position.
One day after Washington played a flawless game in its win over European Zone Champion Brno, of the Czech Republic, the team committed two errors and could not manufacture runs.
“We’ll be back (today) and hopefully come back strong,” Murphy said. “The score doesn’t look good, but it’s respectable. We’ll be ready for whoever the opponent is.”