Peter C. Bjarkman*
HAVANA TIMES, April 30 — Sunday’s full day of action saw both Industriales and Sancti Spíritus widen the gap to a 3-1 margin over their Occidental League quarterfinal opponents, while in the Oriente sector things tightened up considerably with Granma drawing even against Villa Clara and Ciego de Avila notching a first victory over Las Tunas.
With four games on tap Monday, both the Blue Lions of Industriales and the Gallos of Sancti Spíritus are now poised to make quick work of their western sector challengers while Granma and Ciego need to repeat their home field successes in order to remain contenders out east.
Industriales mainstay Odrisamer Despaigne and Sancti Spíritus ace Ismel Jiménez each gained a second post-season victory Sunday in moving their respective teams within a single step of advancement to the semifinals.
Lions outfielder Yasmani Tomás tipped the scales in his team’s favor with a second inning homer (his third of the series) and ace southpaw Norberto González was able to survive only three rocky innings against a robust Industriales offense that plated five runs in the first four frames.
Jiménez coasted in José Antonio Huelga Stadium behind a Gallos offense that provided 13 hits and 11 runs against five ineffective Matanzas hurlers. Victory number 19 for the Gallos right-hander made him only the third hurler in league history to reach that many in a single season (post-season wins included).
Only José Ibar has ever reached the 20-victory plateau (Habana Province 1998). Braudillo Vinent (Serranos 1973) managed 19 without post-season play.
And while Victor Mesa’s Matanzas club was the most pleasant surprise of National Series #51 regular season play, the inconsistent Crocodiles are now poised to be the biggest flop of the current post-season.
In Bayamo, Granma finally overcame its sloppy fielding and poor base running to draw even at home with the Villa Clara Orangemen. Despite another three errors in the field and poor base running that killed a possible game-opening rally in the fourth, the Stallions hung on this time around despite being out hit 10-7 on their home field. Home run king Alfredo Despaigne produced his third round-tripper of the series and an additional smash by Urmanis Guerra provided the final margin of victory.
The home field win for the Ciego de Avila Tigers at José Ramon Cepero Stadium was sparked by the return of ace hurler Vladimir García who produced a solid complete-game effort while allowing only five hits (including a two-run homer by Joan Carlos Pedroso).
Tigers’ manager Roger Machado was put at a distinct disadvantage in his confrontation with Las Tunas simply because he was forced to use García on the season’s final day in a game needed for playoff qualification. That meant that Machado had to wait until the third game of the series to finally employ his most reliable starter – and thus to finally enter in the win column.
Games of April 29 (Sunday)
Industriales 6, Cienfuegos 2
Granma 6, Villa Clara 5
Sancti Spíritus 11, Matanzas 1 (KO 8 innings)
Ciego de Ávila 5, Las Tunas 4 (5:30 pm EST)
Games of April 30 (Monday)
Matanzas at Sancti Spíritus (5pm EST)
Villa Clara at Granma (5pm EST)
Industriales at Cienfuegos (8:30pm EST)
Las Tunas at Ciego de Ávila (8:30pm EST)
On Sunday the Cuban Baseball Federation announced that games original scheduled for Tuesday, May 1 (the two matches in the Occidental League) will not be played, due to the special May Day workers holiday celebrations.
(*) See Peter C. Bjarkman’s posts on his MLB blog.