Santiago de Cuba Still Kicking

By Circles Robinson

Norge Luis Vera

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 23 —Santiago de Cuba defeated Las Tunas on Tuesday 6-5 to force do-or-die date for both teams on Wednesday for the last ticket to the 2009-2010 Cuban Baseball Playoffs to begin on the weekend.

The game took up where it had been suspended earlier in the season with Santiago ahead 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth.

Santiago veteran right-hander Norge Luis Vera—now fully recovered from an off the field injury in November—  went the final four innings to get the victory, pitching out of a couple jams and quickly resolving the rest including a one-two-three ninth.

Right-hander Yoelkis Cruz hung tight for Las Tunas against the tough Santiago battery that threatened continuously but didn’t score another run.

The playoff match-ups are Sancti Spiritus (63-27) vs. Industriales (47-43) and Cienfuegos (51-39) vs. La Habana (49-40) in the Western Division.  Ciego de Avila (49-40) vs. Guantánamo (52-37) and Villa Clara (56-32) vs. Las Tunas (47-42) or Santiago (47-41) in the Eastern Division.

The biggest surprises this regular season came from Guantánamo and Cienfuegos which both finished in second place in their divisions.  Neither team made the playoffs the previous season when Guantanamo finished with a 43-47 record and Cienfuegos a lowly 34-56.

This season’s top game winner, Sancti Spiritus, improved considerably after a 48-42 third place finish the previous campaign.