Cuba Bids Farewell to Baseball Season, Santiago Wins
The Hornets from Santiago behaved more like Lions on Wednesday as they roared their way to an 8-2 win over Industriales to obtain Cuba’s coveted baseball championship before a home town stadium bursting at the seams.
The 2006-7 Cuban baseball season came to a close with Santiago, managed by Antonio Pacheco, winning the best of seven championship series four games to two. It was the flip side of last year’s finals when Industriales won by the same margin.
The rivalry between Santiago and Industriales goes beyond baseball. Industriales plays out of the nation’s capital and has the best stadium, the Latinoamericano. Havana is the center of the country’s political and economic life and is considered the land of opportunities.
The team from Santiago de Cuba, known for its musicians and rebellious past, is traditionally supported by emigrants from the Eastern part of Cuba to the capital and most of the island outside Havana.
During the final series the rivalry consumed the interest of the nation. Juventud Rebelde newspaper ran a full-page display of painted faces and other creative fan expressions on Wednesday. One cartoon poster shown in the daily had the Industriales lion fumigating a hive of Santiago hornets, a takeoff on the country’s anti-mosquito campaigns.
Since seating is first come first served and prices are only a few cents, many fans were lined up at the stadium as early as 3:00 p.m. when the gates opened for the 8:00 o’clock game. Thousands were turned away and had to settle for watching the game on TV.
Conga drums, trumpets and cow bells played throughout the game, with the musicians turning up the volume each time that their team needed a strikeout, big play or clutch hit. Since both squads had their bands, there was never a calm moment and many fans spontaneously moved their hips. Often, virtually the entire stadium was standing to both dance and cheer on their team.
Betting is not legal in Cuba but there were more than a few people at the stadium and at bars across the country that had money riding on the game.
All playoff games, including the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals were broadcast on Cuba’s no-advertising TV. Between some innings there were calls to attend the upcoming May Day International Worker’s Day March and protests against the United States decision to free terrorist Luis Posada Carriles on bond.
Circus performers and dancers entertained mid-way through the game and a magnificent fireworks display began immediately after the final out.
A RERUN THAT RERAN
The game six match-up was a rerun from game two, started by a couple of young right-handers, Deinys Suarez (Industriales) and Albert Carrion (Santiago). However, in that game neither got passed the fourth inning, nor had anything to do with the final score (8-6 in favor of Santiago).
In the rematch, once again Suarez was knocked out at the beginning of the fifth and Carrion lasted only three batters leaving with the bases loaded and nobody out in the first. Yadel Marti came on for Suarez but was unable to prevent Santiago from tying and then taking the lead. Alberto Bicet relieved Carrion and left in the eighth after reaching the pitching maximum of 100 throws, but with the writing already on the wall.
Industriales had erased a 2-0 deficit at home to tie the series at 2-2 before losing Monday. Down 3-2, the series went back to Santiago with the team managed by Rey Anglada on the brink of defeat. The tense and hard fought final game lasted four hours.
PITCHING vs. HITTING
The series had been billed as a battle between the Industriales pitching and Santiago hitting. With pitching considered 70 percent of the game by most experts, the series was considered a toss up.
Industriales’ left handed pitchers Arleys Sanchez and Maicel Diaz lived up to the staff’s reputation, shutting out Santiago, the leagues top hitting team, in games three (5-0) and four (3-0). However, right-handed starters Frank Montieth and Deinys Suarez, as well as World Baseball Classic ace Yadel Marti who pitched in three games as a reliever, faltered in the four Industriales losses 19-6, 8-6, 6-4 and 8-2 in games 1, 2, 5 and 6.
The series pitching standouts for Santiago included Alberto Bicet who won twice (games 2 and 6), going a total of 13.1 innings in two long and one short relief job. He allowed a total of only three runs. Bicet was aided Wednesday by his infield which turned three double plays in the final game.
Norge Luis Vera wasn’t as effective, but won his two starts in games one and five while giving up six earned runs in twelve innings. Santiago’s brilliant closer Felix Rivera pitched five innings of scoreless relief in three appearances.
Both teams made more than their average amount of errors, possibly due to the high tension reigning both on the field and in the stands. Industriales had a total of seven mishaps and Santiago eleven. There were several other plays recorded as hits which could have been errors.
Industriales best hitter during the series was clean up man Alexander Mayeta. The first baseman hit three homers and drove in seven runs. Besides making several important catches, centerfielder Carlos Tabares hit two homers, scored five and drove in five. Left fielder Yoandry Urgelles went 7-for-18 with four RBIs.
Santiago took advantage of Industriales Achilles heel in pitching —control—, receiving a total of 37 walks during the six game series. Industriales also received 26 walks.
When they weren’t trotting to first, the big sticks for Santiago were carried by first baseman Jose Julio Ruiz, who scored five times and had two doubles and two homers, including a solo shot to tie the score at 2-2 on Wednesday. Both right fielder Alexander Bell (six RBIs and eight runs scored) and third baseman Ronnier Mustelier had two homers each during the series. Center fielder Reutilio Hurtado had seven RBIs and a record-breaking ten doubles in the combined playoffs against Camaguey, Villa Clara and Industriales.
The season has ended but that doesn’t mean there won’t be more baseball. The Cuban national team will be playing in the upcoming ALBA games in Venezuela, one of several planned tune-ups for the Rio de Janeiro Pan American Games in July.