My Turn at Bat

by Ray Otero*

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 17 — Matanzas continued their torrid pace, forgetting their disastrous track record when playing against Villa Clara, sweeping their rivals in their three-game series.  As a result VC fell from first place in the Eastern Division while Matanzas leads the West with an impressive 22- 9 record.

Villa Clara manager Ramón Moré could do little when faced by a team at their best moment and playing at home to their highly enthusiastic fans.  A whole article could be written about Matanzas, which has played to win and is taking themselves seriously at the top of the standings.

Some would say the difference is a change in mentality, but what’s certain is that Victor Mesa has put his team on a winning course, similar to what the great manager Gerardo “Sile” Junco did back in 1989, with the Matanzas Henequeneros.

However, it wasn’t only Matanzas that did things well over the weekend, the darling of Havana, Industriales, is making itself heard and appears to be a serious contender to dispute the top position of the Western Division.

Industriales has racked up eight wins in a row capped by their weekend sweep of Ciego de Avila, last year’s runner-up league champs, including a complete game shutout from right hander Odrisamer Despaigne.

The Lions appear to be enjoying a style of play that forces respect from their rivals. Two players have been key in the waking: First baseman Alexander Malleta has nine homers and leads the league in RBIs with 38, and outfielder Irait Chirino, who is among the league leaders with a .377 batting average and a true inspiration for the rest of the squad.

As a team, Industriales now leads the league with a collective .311 average and are second with stolen bases with 27, only two behind the leader Cienfuegos, also in the Western Division.

For many fans Industriales has returned to the elements that have characterized it over the years: playing as team, speed on the base paths, clutch hitting and of course, first rate pitching.  The Lions begin this week with a road trip to Camaguey, a team that traditionally plays well against them, despite a 51-73 (.411) record in head-to-head clashes.  We’ll see how far Industriales can go with the winning streak.

With the way these two teams at the top of the West are playing a full house is already guaranteed when they face each other on January 24-26 in Matanzas.

Continuing with the Cuban capital city – and please don’t criticize me for it – two other events characterized the last week of play.

One was the three home runs by Serguei Perez of Industriales on January 11th in his team’s 14-8 win over Ciego de Avila.  The other, historic, was Enrique Díaz (Metropolitanos) reaching a total of 1,600 runs scored in his career in the Cuban Baseball League. He did it against Industriales in the sixth inning on January 9, after batting a single to right, advancing to second on a hit by Roberto Carlos Ramirez and scoring on a double by Jorge L. Barclan to right.

One retirement filled the Cristobal Labra Stadium on the Isla de la Juventud on Saturday.  Right handed pitcher Carols Yanes said goodbye to Cuban baseball as an active player after 28 seasons wearing the Isla de la Juventud uniform.

Yanes is worthy of admiration on his baseball longevity alone, taking into account that his debut was in the 1983-84 season. The small but hard working pitcher played with three generations of players in different stages of his career.

In announcing his retirement, Yanes said he would continue to contribute to the sport all he has learned in a career that saw him win 235 games. He is the last player to retire of the generation of the ‘80s, known as the golden one of Cuban baseball by some, and the romantic era to others.

And while the veteran left us, another pitcher returned, with righty Ciro Silvio Licea pitching on last Thursday against Artemisa in a game where he didn’t figure in the decision but looked good in six solid innings, allowing only one run and striking out six.  His return bodes well for Granma and for the current season.

Individual Leaders

In batting two Matanzas hitters are at the top.  Jose M. Fernandez is hitting a surprising .432 (41-95) with teammate Guillermo Heredia in second with .409 (45-110).

Rusney Castillo. Photo: granma.cu

Rusney Castillo (Ciego de Avila) leads the league with 10 home runs with six players on his heals with nine: Yulieski Gourriel of Sancti Spiritus, Yosvany Peraza of Pinar del Rio, Alex Malleta of Industriales, Hector Oliver of Santiago de Cuba, Alfredo Despaigne of Granma, and the current record holder Jose D. Abreu of Cienfuegos.

In pitching, three hurlers, all from the West, lead the league with six wins: Norberto Gonzalez (Cienfuegos), Yohan Hernandez (Matanzas), Ismel Jimenez (Sancti Spiritus).  The lowest ERA is Jorge Martinez (Matanzas) with an amazing 0.73.  Yadier Pedroso (Artemisa) leads in strikeouts with 51 and Duneil Ibarra (Cienfuegos) in saves with 10.

Note: On Monday, Alfredo Despaigne (Granma) and Yosvany Peraza (Pinar del Rio) both hit their homeruns number 10 to tie Rusney Castillo of Ciego de Avila for the league lead.

The series taking place through Wednesday are the following with Sancti Spiritus resting.

EASTERN DIVISION (Home Teams)

1:00 p.m –  Industriales at Camaguey

1:00 p.m –  Matanzas at Ciego de Avila

8:15 p.m. – Artemisa at Santiago de Cuba (TV)

1:00 p.m. – Pinar del Rio at Guantanamo

WESTERN DIVISION (Home Teams)

1:00 p.m. – Holguin at Isla de la Juventud

1:00 p.m. – Las Tunas at Metropolitano

1:00 p.m. – Granma at Mayabeque

1:00 p.m. – Villa Clara at Cienfuegos

*Ray Otero writes a regular column for Basballdecuba.com


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