By PETER C. BJARKMAN*
HAVANA TIMES, January 30 – Action continues to heat up on the island as the Cuban League season moves rapidly toward its six-week mid-year break on February 9, an unwelcome interruption made necessary by this year’s renewal of MLB’s much-anticipated 2nd World Baseball Classic (March 5-23).
While defending champion Santiago continues its resurgence in the East (now only a half-game out of second slot and four behind the leader Villa Clara) and fan-favorite Industriales continues to swoon in the West (where last night’s loss dropped them only one slot above the basement), the biggest on-field story in this final week of January has been a surprise no-hit, no-run pitching feat in the capital city by 25-year-old Matanzas right-hander Jorge Alberto Martinez.
Martinez has heretofore been a rather mediocre hurler during his first four and a half National Series seasons: the spindly six-footer entered the current campaign with an unimpressive lifetime 8-17 won-lost mark (5.59 ERA) and hasn’t been a whole lot better throughout the first half of the 2008-2009 season (5-3, 7.29 ERA, 12 strikeouts in 21 previous innings).
But Thursday evening in Latin American Stadium Martinez entered the record books–and also added to the season-long woes of rookie Industriales manager German Mesa–by authoring the fiftieth no-hit, no run masterpiece in league history and the first since Jonder Martinez of the Habana Province turned the trick precisely one year ago.
Martinez mixed an effective assortment of sharp curves and average fast balls (none clocked above 87 mph) to mesmerize Industriales hitters on their home field in what was clearly the “game of a lifetime” for the previously little-noted Matanzas starter.
Only a single Industriales batter reached base and that occurred when right fielder Serguei Perez was struck by an errant pitch in the second frame. Since Perez was quickly erased by a double play, Martínez faced only the minimum 27 batters in the nine inning game and struck out only four.
Luck was also seemingly on the side of the Matanzas righty, since manager German Mesa elected to allow Rudy Reyes to try and bunt for a base hit while leading off the seventh, despite a 3-ball-one-strike count at the time. A low and outside pitch was bunted foul and a potential leadoff base on balls was wasted by the frustrated home club. Matanzas plated all of its runs on a three-run first inning blast by first baseman Lazaro Herrera.
Staked to his early lead, Martínez coasted the entire game and was assisted by unsuccessful bunt attempts along the way by eleven different Industriales batters. The no-hitter was the fifth in history versus Industriales, the last coming on January 22, 2004 at the hands of Camagüey righty Fernando Tejeda.
The other three hurlers responsible for no-hitters versus Industriales are Aquino Abreu (Centrales) in 1966, Oscar Romero (Camagüey) in 1975, and Ernesto Guevara (Granma) in 1992. This was also the thirteenth such masterpiece authored on the grounds of Havana’s historic Latin American Stadium, which has thus witnessed the largest number of no-hitters in Cuban baseball league history.
*Peter Bjarkman’s blog can be read at: http://bjarkmanlatinobaseball.mlblogs.com