Mexico keeps going in LLWS, gets to pose with Rivera, too

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) Mexico catcher Raul Leon, three teammates and their manager were waiting in the narrow hallway for their turn at the interview room inside Lamade Stadium. They spotted one of baseball's greatest players walking toward them.

Yes, it was Mariano Rivera. They had to get a photo. But who would take it?

Just then, the manager of the Taiwan team they had just eliminated with an 11-1 victory exited the interview room and offered to snap the group shot.

Perfect.

''That's what it is all about,'' the record-setting Yankees closer said Tuesday. ''Competition. Nothing personal, just competition.''

Rivera hung around to get inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence, throwing a ceremonial first pitch to Bowling Green, Kentucky catcher Jonah Thurman - a perfect strike, of course - before the night game.

That was the only good moment for the Kentucky team, which committed four errors while getting eliminated by Bonita, California 11-3. By that time, Mexico was relaxing and waiting to find out who comes next in its bracket.

They hope it's Japan.

Leon, the cleanup hitter for Mexicali Baja California, had three hits and drove in five runs as Taipei, Taiwan was eliminated. Mexico gets a day off before playing the loser of a game between undefeated Japan and Venezuela on Wednesday afternoon. Mexico lost to Japan 3-1 early in the tournament.

Asked which team he'd rather face, manager Jorge Joel Armenta didn't flinch: ''We want to play Japan. We want the revenge.''

Their catcher played the biggest role in getting them in position for a possible rematch, playing a bit like his hero in the major leagues.

Leon drove in only one run during Mexicali's first three games. On Tuesday, he homered in the first inning for a 3-0 lead, spreading his arms in celebration as he rounded the bases. In the second inning, he came up with the bases loaded and singled sharply to center field for two more runs during a four-run rally. He finished 3 for 3 overall.

The catcher who led the way was asked which catcher he admires most in the majors. ''Yadier Molina, because he's the best catcher in MLB,'' he said quickly, referring to the St. Louis Cardinals' All-Star.

As Mexicali celebrated the big early lead, Taiwan started to feel the pressure.

''It made our players nervous, giving up those hits to Mexico,'' manager Min Nan Lai said. ''We became anxious and that was the biggest reason we could not win this game.''

Armando Verdugo allowed one earned run and six hits in five innings, striking out six.

It wasn't all hitting and pitching. Mexicali second baseman Andres Villa made a smooth play when he scooped a grounder with his glove to the shortstop to start a double play in the second inning.

Villa hit a two-run homer in the fifth, and Ernesto Rios followed with another drive.

''This was like a final for us,'' Villa said. ''I knew I had to win it.''

After throwing his ceremonial pitch before the night game, Rivera agreed to Bonita's request to autograph its batting helmets.

''He inspired us really well,'' said Antonio Andrade, who homered. ''He's a major league player, one of the best I've ever seen in my lifetime, and he just got us fired up.''

The California team then took control right away, scoring three runs in the first inning with the help of a pair of errors.

''We were playing with four 11-year-olds on our roster and some of these teams are loaded with 13-year-olds, so there's a huge difference there,'' Bowling Green manager Rick Kelley said.

Levi Mendez hit a two-run homer in the second for a 5-0 lead, and Andrade homered in the fifth.

Bonita will play the loser of the game on Wednesday night between Texas and Pennsylvania. The winner of that game advances to the championship of the U.S. bracket.

---

AP freelance writer Cody Butler contributed to this report.

---

Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.