08/17/08 11:30 PM ET
Sauceda stages 'perfecto' performance
Perfect game leads Mexico to win in Little League World Series
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
It was a word that pitchers everywhere want to use, because it represents, in baseball circles, excellence at its highest, which is why Sauceda used the word so often.
His outing against Italy was excellence on a grand stage on Sunday. It was, as Sauceda would say over and over in Spanish, "perfecto."
In one of the rarest feats in Little League World Series history, Sauceda pitched a perfect game as Mexico beat Italy, the winners of the Europe Region, 12-0, in a game stopped in the fourth inning because of the 10-run rule.
Yet even that didn't lessen Sauceda's achievement. As Italy coach Andrea Bettati put it, "This speed of their pitcher doesn't exist in Italy. We were in trouble."
And trouble started early for Bettati's boys.
In the bottom of the first, as Sauceda had struck out the side in the top of the inning, Mexico took a 1-0 lead on Tomas Castillo's leadoff homer. The inning would produce more than one run for Mexico, though.
After Castillo's homer, Italy right-hander Mirco Bannani walked left fielder Ruben Molina. Center fielder Sergio Rodriguez singled, and third baseman Emmanuel Rodriguez doubled home a run. Right fielder Eduardo Rodriguez knocked in two more runs.
That gave Sauceda a 4-0 lead. He didn't need any more. He rolled through the team from Italy in a performance as seamless as a Little Leaguer might craft.
The only drama as Mexico continued to pour on the runs against winless Italy was whether Sauceda would achieve perfection this afternoon. Would he become the fourth Little Leaguer to pitch a perfect game at the World Series?
Nobody had to tell the fire-balling Sauceda what was at stake as Mexico went into the top of the fourth, 12-0. He had a role in that lead as well, because it was his grand slam in the bottom of the third that had capped the scoring for Mexico, unbeaten in Pool C play.
Now, Sauceda had history in front of him.
"I realized it was so close," he said through an interpreter. "I was tired, I was really tired."
Yet he knew he had one more inning to go.
"I was really pumped up, really motivated," he said. "I knew I was throwing a perfect game. I was trying to get the perfect game -- or a least a no-hitter."
The fourth didn't seem to start well. The first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Matteo Lanfranchi, proved a struggle. He was fouling off pitch after pitch.
"He was really fighting it off, and I was started to get nervous there," Sauceda said. "He was just fouling it off and fouling it off, and all of a sudden, I had three balls on him."
But Sauceda slowed himself down. He didn't want to walk Lanfranchi. So Sauceda's 3-2 pitch overmatched Lanfranchi, who swung and missed.
Two more hitters to face -- pinch-hitters Guido Gerali and Giacomo Bassi. Both fanned.
"Perfecto" is the word Sauceda used.
Under the spotlight of TV coverage here and abroad, he faced 12 batters; he fanned 12 batters. Sauceda's 60-pitch performance was more than anybody had expected. It was more than he'd expected as well.
"Honestly, I'd dreamt of maybe being a hero of one of the games and win the World Series eventually," he said. "But this was a great game all-around. That was incredible."
It also was "perfecto."
Japan 9, Canada 3: Right-hander Takumi Ozeki called the game the worst he'd pitched. "I expected he would pitch much better," coach Shingo Ariyasu said through an interpreter. But as harsh as both evaluations might have been, Ozeki and Ariyasu could take solace in the fact the other players from Japan provided plenty of firepower. With a homer from catcher Yutaka Takeshita, a triple from Ryohji Kimuri and doubles from left fielder Shodai Mizuno, third baseman Masahiro Igarashi and center fielder Ryo Motegi, Ozeki wasn't short of run support. Overall, he pitched well. He allowed just three hits and one run in 4 1/3 innings. Ozeki teamed with Mizuno and Satoshi Suehiro to hold Canada to four hits.
Southwest 9, Great Lakes 0: Left-hander Trey Quinn might have been trumped by an earlier performance, but Quinn and his teams from Lake Charles, La., had to like the performance Quinn did produce. He pitched a no-hitter in shutting out Jeffersonville, Ind., to remain unbeaten in Pool A. In beating Jeffersonville, Quinn got plenty of support. Lake Charles scored five runs in the bottom of the first off Dalton Duley. "It's a lot easier to call a baseball game when the offense gives you some runs," said pitching coach Dave Quinn, Trey's father. "You don't have to nitpick." His son didn't. He walked one and struck out 12 en route to his World Series masterpiece. "I'm proud of him," his father said. He had more than his son to be proud of. Lake Charles got two triples from shortstop Kennon Fontenot, who pitched a dominant game a night earlier, and two hits and two RBIs from catcher Beau Jordan. Both teams are off Monday. They return to Pool A play on Tuesday. Jeffersonville will play Mill Creek (Wash.), the Northwest Region champ; Lake Charles will play Hagerstown (Md.), the Mid-Atlantic champ.
Latin America 12, MEA 0: Right-hander Aroldo Sanchez admitted he was nervous in the first inning. He needed to hear some wise words from his coach, who advised him to ignore the boisterous fans from his homeland. Sanchez listened well. He shook off those early jitters and held Saudi Arabia to three hits and no runs over four innings. Along the way, his teammates lavished him with runs aplenty, quickly turning the game into an easy win. Sanchez contributed to that offensive eruption. He doubled twice and knocked in three runs to pace a 14-hit attack that overpowered the Middle East/Africa Region champions. In the sixth, Saudi Arabia tried to mount a late threat against right-hander Will Changarotty, but nothing came of it, as Changarotty, the team's second reliever, kept the shutout going.
West 10, Southeast 2: The opportunity to clinch a spot in the next round was there to be had in Pool A, and Hawaii, the winner of the West Region, seized it. Using the strong relief work of right-hander Tanner Tokunaga, left-hander Trevor Ling, right-hander Christian Donahue and right-hander Kainoa Fong, Hawaii shut down one of the more potent offenses in the Series, holding Citrus Park, winner of the Southeast Region, to six hits. Aside from the 2-0 lead Citrus Park took in the first off starter Khade Paris, it wasn't able to generation anything more. Hawaii showed plenty of ability to score, and Tokunaga's grand slam in the bottom of the fifth sealed the victory. "He just hung a curve," Tokunaga said of right-hander Darren Miller. "I hit it good. ... It busted the game open." Citrus Park coach Joe McGuire said the loss was a wakeup call for his ballclub, viewed as one of the strongest teams in the tournament. Both teams play on Monday, though the Hawaii game against Rapid City (S.D.), winner of the Midwest Region, is meaningless. Citrus Park will play Shelton (Conn.), winner of the New England Region, for the right to advance.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.