SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — As he rounded third, Bruno Ruiz braced himself for the celebration after seeing his teammates from Mexicali, Mexico, run out to home plate to greet him.
The Mexico players dole out pats on the helmet every time a teammate hits a home run — especially at the Little League World Series.
Ruiz’s homer to center off a 2-0 pitch in the ninth broke a pitcher’s duel to help the boys from Mexicali defeat Maracay, Venezuela, 2-1 Wednesday to advance to Saturday’s international final.
A smiling Ruiz cringed while getting bombarded by teammates with pats on his green helmet after crossing the plate.
"When I looked up at home plate and I saw all my teammates there, I knew what to expect," the 13-year-old slugger said through interpreter Sergio Guzman. "Yes it hurt ... But it’s tradition. Everyone hits a home run on my team and they get hit on the helmet."
Wednesday’s nightcap featured the last two unbeaten teams in the U.S. bracket in Huntington Beach, Calif., and Billings, Mont., two teams that have become fast friends since staying in the same dorm during regional play.
Venezuela must now play Japan on Thursday, while Mexico can rest up for Saturday after reliever Jorge Jacobo closed out the victory by inducing a groundout. Friends and family serenaded their players with songs in Spanish after the dramatic win.
Starter Keny Marquez struck out seven over six innings and Yonny Hernandez had an RBI double for Venezuela, which lost for the first time in the postseason.
"We haven’t lost a game all tournament and the kids are having a hard time dealing with that," manager Gustavo Narvaez said through translator Edwardo Caraballo. "We have to have meeting to deal with forgetting this game."
It was a memorable one for fans of great pitching and excellent defense.
Venezuela catcher Carlos Narvaez’s sweep tag on a throw up the third-base line got Mexico runner Alvaro Valdez as he tried to score on Carlos Arellano’s opposite-field single to right to end the seventh.
An inning earlier, Venezuela loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth with nobody out, but Arellano, the starting pitcher, escaped the jam with a strikeout and a home-to-first double play off a grounder.
"Yes we can! Yes we can," Mexico’s vocal fans cheered in Spanish as the players jogged back to the dugout.
Arellano struck out 11 over 7 1-3 innings, settling down after giving up a run in the first. A bag of ice strapped to his right shoulder after the game, Mexico’s 12-year-old ace said he made simple adjustments.
"I needed to throw it faster," Arellano said. "Also, I wanted to work on my mechanics. I wanted to throw more strikes so they wouldn’t get more hits off me."
A nice reward awaits Mexico’s players after Yankees reliever Luis Ayala told the team he would try to have them out for Thursday’s game in the Bronx against the A’s if they won Wednesday. The players are Yankees fans, though manager Francisco Picos McDonough loves the Red Sox.
Marquez and three Venezuela relievers combined for 11 strikeouts, matching Mexico pitch-for-pitch — except for the one thrown to Ruiz in the ninth.