'It's a fiesta' for electric Arozarena as Mexico moves on

March 16th, 2023

PHOENIX – Randy Arozarena is at it again.

Mexico is headed to the 2023 World Baseball Classic quarterfinals, having claimed Pool C with a 10-3 victory over Canada on Wednesday afternoon at Chase Field. Arozarena, who delivered a postseason run for the ages with Tampa Bay in 2020, was once again at the center of a Mexico win, delivering a bases-clearing double in the sixth that sent the heavily pro-Mexico crowd into a frenzy.

Fans behind the Mexico on-deck circle and left-field wall alike have come to enjoy both the running banter and autograph stylings of the hottest hitter at the 2023 Classic. They have chanted, “Ran-dy! Ran-dy!” before each plate appearance. They have handed down baseballs, hats and even enormous gloves for him to sign.

“The fans make me happy every time they clap for me, every time they chant my name,” Arozarena, who drove in five runs in the victory, said via an interpreter. “It makes me play at 100 percent of my capacity.”

In four games at the group stage, Arozarena, who was born in Cuba and became a Mexican citizen in 2022, went 7-for-14 with six extra-base hits and nine RBIs, the latter of which set a club record at the World Baseball Classic.

Having only just made his official national team debut less than a week ago, Arozarena has already emerged as something bordering on a folk hero, sending the crowd into exultation just by stepping into the batter’s box. The bright lights bringing out the best in the 28-year-old is nothing new: During Tampa Bay’s run to the World Series in 2020, the outfielder swatted 10 home runs across 18 games beginning in the Division Series, slashing .362/.429/.812 in that span.

“He’s an electric player,” said Mexico designated hitter Rowdy Tellez, who added a solo home run in the eighth. “He’s an All-Star-caliber player. So just to watch him do what he does is just special.”

With how often Arozarena has strolled into second base with a two-bagger while in Phoenix (five times, to be exact), it’s good that he had his celebration ready: arms crossed, back straight and smile wide, posing for his dugout and the camera alike.

“It’s a fiesta every time,” Tellez said of playing in front of the Mexican fans. “They’re a very proud culture. We love to just be around each other. We’re a giant family. I think any time we can get around to represent our country, our fans are really going to back us.”

When manager Benji Gil was figuring out how to stack up his four starting pitchers – Julio Urías, Patrick Sandoval, Taijuan Walker and José Urquidy – he gave preference to Urquidy to pitch the Pool C finale due to his postseason – and particularly World Series – experience.

Urquidy peppered the strike zone, landing 44 of his 62 pitches for strikes. He scattered six hits and one walk over his four frames, managing to limit Canada to just two runs. He tied a knot on his performance by recording back-to-back strikeouts in the fourth, the latter of which led to him slapping his glove in celebration as he bounced off the mound.

“It helped me a lot,” Urquidy said via an interpreter of how valuable his 12 postseason appearances were for this atmosphere. “These types of scenarios that I had today, it's the same. There's a lot of tension. There's a lot of adrenaline. So that World Series that I played [in], it's very similar to what we had today. So yes, they have helped me 100 percent in [these] situations.”

After dropping its opening contest of pool play in extra innings to Colombia on Saturday, Mexico knew that it would likely have to run the table in order to earn a plane ticket to Miami. After a rousing upset of Team USA in front of a sellout crowd on Sunday, back-to-back wins in under 24 hours against Great Britain and now Canada have given Mexico ample momentum as it currently sits three wins away from the 2023 Classic crown. 

“I’m very happy with what we accomplished, but we’re not satisfied yet,” Gil said in Spanish.

Mexico – who will send Urías to the hill – will meet Puerto Rico at Marlins Park in a single-elimination quarterfinals game on Saturday. The country has yet to finish higher than sixth place or above .500 at the World Baseball Classic, and it will be moving on past the group stage for the first time since 2009.

Canada was eliminated from the tournament when Team USA completed Pool C play with a 3-2 victory over Colombia on Wednesday night.