Ramon Ballina's eyewear changed, but the good play didn't.
Ballina, sporting a new red plastic pair of wraparound glasses thanks to team uncle Bob Massetti, hit a three-run home run as part of a five-run third inning before pitching three shutout innings to earn his second save in as many days as Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, eliminated Caribbean champ Willemstad, Curacao, 6-2, Tuesday at the Little League World Series.
"Yes, they work," Ballina said through an interpreter, as teammates Omar Cervantes and Eduardo Abrego started laughing during the postgame press conference. "I believe it was the glasses."
They're important, Ballina said, because he said he can't see the ball without them. His old pair broke before Monday's game, requiring him to tape the front left earpiece to the front. So Massetti took Ballina to a local optometrist at Price Optical Tuesday morning for a new free pair.
Abrego followed Ballina's home run with one of his own in the third inning as Mexico advanced to play Thursday against the loser of today's game between Japanese champ Tokyo and Latin American champ Aguadulce, Panama.
Tuesday also marked the first of a two-game suspension of Mexican manager Fernando Rios for not batting Juan Rodriguez in Monday's victory over Taiwan. Assistant Cesar Mata said the players discussed that Tuesday morning to work through their worries.
"Fortunately, we were together. We trust our kids," Mata said. "We had a long talk. A long talk back in the dorms, and we explained things calmly to them. Everyone put in a little on their own to win this game."
Andres Carillo earned the win, allowing two runs on five hits in three innings. Curacao scored on him when Hermain Habat was hit by a pitch and scored on a bases-loaded walk. But a 3-3-2 double play turned by Felix Diaz ended the threat.
Down 5-1 in the bottom of the third, Richelon Juliana singled and scored on a wild pitch.
"I feel like we played well, but there were two missed pitches and that was the game," Curacao manager Edmiro Chirino said through an interpreter.
Those two pitches, by starting pitcher Christopher Koieman, put Curacao in a four-run hole.
Down 5-2 in the bottom of the fifth, Curacao put Mychellon Jansen and Mildward Baranco on base before Ballina retired Railison Bentura and Shendrick Apostel with pop flies.
Koieman struck out five hitters the first time through the lineup but struggled the next time around in the big third inning. Sebastian Cuellar doubled, then Joel Turrubiates and Cervantes singled before Ballina's home run. Koieman struck out Carillo before Abrego's homer.
"He was faster the first couple of innings, but then he slowed down," Abrego said through an interpreter. "And then we started hitting the ball."
Chirino said Koieman was fine after leaving the game Sunday, when he needed ice on his hip. Arjun Huerta relieved him Tuesday, allowing a run in the top of the sixth when Diaz doubled and scored on a passed ball.
"We all got experience. Me, the kids, everyone," Chirino said. "Basically, they came to Williamsport and they met all the regional champions and they know what level they need to be at."
Mexico will watch Japan and Panama today to see what it must do Thursday in a bid to advance to the International title game. Ballina, who also earned the save over Taiwan, will be eligible to pitch after needing just 29 pitches. Cervantes or Gerardo Moreno also could throw, Mata said.
This is quite the hot streak for Ballina, but he said he was playing better last month during the Mexican Regional. He and Abrego also didn't care who they played Thursday, though Cervantes preferred Panama.
"We could pick anyone, but if we keep playing the way we have we'll beat anyone," Abrego said through an interpreter.