Peter C. Bjarkman*
HAVANA TIMES, April 26 — Both Cienfuegos and Matanzas got back on track during the second day of Occidental League play – the Elephants riding the arm of Noelvis Entenza to shut down a sputtering Industriales offense and Matanzas getting just enough pitching from starter Jorge Alberto Martínez to hold off the upset-minded Sancti Spíritus Gallos.
Before 34,000-plus in Latin American Stadium Entenza wove his magic for 7.1 innings of near flawless work, allowing but three harmless hits and scattering six walks while striking out five.
Two runs in the third frame gave the Elephants all the edge they would need as Industriales was kept off the scoreboard until Yasmani Tomás cracked a solo homer in the final at-bat for the Lions.
Duniel Ibarra closed out the eighth and worked the ninth to pick up his 23rd save of the year for the visitors.
Matanzas gained their first-ever post-season victory (under the Matanzas team label) by manufacturing three tallies in a seventh-inning uprising that was opened by Yoandy Garlobo’s double and closed out by Yurisbel Gracial’s run-producing single. Lázaro Herrera also chipped in with a sacrifice fly.
Earlier in that same inning José Alfonso had lifted the Gallos into a temporary lead with a two-run shot off starter Martínez. Another disappointing crowd of only 8,000 turned out to witness the first post-season victory for any team representing the city in two full decades.
It was precisely twenty years ago (1992 and National Series #31) that a team then known as Henequeneros reached the playoff finals in its final campaign before the name switch to Matanzas.
Eastern Division Opens
On the opening evening of Oriental League action Las Tunas got all the scoring it would need behind Yoelkis Cruz in the form of a sixth-inning three run homer by shortstop Alexander Guerrero.
Cruz scattered nine hits over seven strong innings of work that was marred only by a Yorelvis Charles solo homer in the top of the sixth.
But the game of the day unfolded in Augusto César Sandino Stadium in Villa Clara when Ciro Silvino Licea and Freddy Asiel Alvarez locked horns in one of the best post-season mano-a-mano pitching duals in several seasons.
In one of his strongest-ever career outings veteran Licea (often in the past criticized for subpar playoff efforts) bent but never cracked. The stocky Granma right-hander kept the Orangemen off the scoreboard for nine innings despite striking out only three and permitting nine Villa Clara safeties.
The game’s solo run came in the top of the eighth when number-eight batter Adrian Moreno doubled, was moved to third on an infield roller, and then scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ramon Tamayo.
The inability of the home club to muster any offensive thrust against Licea also wiped out a brilliant if largely futile complete-game effort from Freddy Asiel Alvarez. Freddy Asiel struck out seven, surrendered only four hits (two of them in the fateful eighth) and held Granma’s biggest guns – Alfredo Despaigne and Yordanis Samón – at bay for the entire nine innings.
Games of April 24 (Tuesday)
Industriales 2, Cienfuego 1
Sancti Spíritus 6, Matanzas 1
Games of April 25 (Wednesday)
Cienfuegos 3, Industriales 1
Matanzas 5, Sancti Spíritus 3
Las Tunas 6, Ciego de Avila 1
Granma 1, Villa Clara 0
Games of April 26 (Thursday)
Granma at Villa Clara (5pm EST)
Ciego de Avila at Last Tunas (8:30pm EST)
(*) See Peter C. Bjarkman’s posts on his MLB Blog.