How do you spell relief?
Eduardo Flores was not the starting pitcher for his Mexico team, but that didn’t stop him from turning in one the most dominating pitching performances in the 2001Little League World Series.
Flores relieved Luis Zaragoza in the third inning and pitched the final four frames to earn the 2-0 victory over Russia at Volunteer Stadium. All 12 outs recorded by Flores were by strikeout. He gave up just one hit and one walk during the final four frames.
“(Pitching in relief) is the same thing (as starting),” Flores said. “There’s nothing really different.”
The win, coupled with Canada’s 6-5 loss to Guam, earned Mexico a spot in Wednesday night’s International semifinal game. It will square off against the first-place team from Pool C.
“I actually left the ground jumping,” said Mexico manager Tomas Castillo when he found out about Canada’s loss.
“I am very happy to be in,” added Flores.
Offensively for Mexico, Fernando Garcia led off the third inning with a single up the middle. Two batters later Pedro Rodriguez bunted Garcia to second base. Flores then doubled to right-center field and Garcia came around to score.
Flores advanced to third on a wild pitch and would later cross the plate on a throwing error by the catcher. Mexico ended the inning up 2-0.
Mexico threatened again in the bottom half of the fifth when it had the bases loaded and one out. But Russia pitcher Nikita Dolgopolov induced Angel Alonso to ground into an inning-ending 5-2-3 double play.
“What makes me happy the most is that we are in the second round,” Flores said. “What makes me second-most happy is that I helped the team offensively.”
And perhaps he is third-most happy about his pitching in today’s game.
Castillo originally wanted to save Flores’ pitching for the semifinal, but after the first two innings went scoreless, the manager had no choice to put him in to shut the door.
“We brought him in to not allow any runs,” Castillo said. “I’m really happy with him.”
While Mexico finishes pool play with a 2-1 record, Russia goes home with a 0-3 record.
“It was a tough series for us,” said Russia coach Vladimir Eltchaninov. “It was a great experience to face teams of that level. Unfortunately we don’t have teams of that level in Europe. The kids did their best, though. They didn’t play bad.”
Luis Zaragoza started on the hill for the Mexico squad. He pitched just two innings, but did not allow a run or a hit. He struck out three and walked a batter.
- Mark Rogoff