HAVANA TIMES, January 29. – Villa Clara (34-11) has been breezing all season in the Cuban Baseball League Eastern Division. While they still have a comfortable 4.5 game lead, the defending champions, Santiago de Cuba, are kicking up some dust and have moved from fifth place and playing under .500 to third place, now (29-17) and only five games back.
The two teams conclude their three game series on Thursday in Villa Clara after two cliff hangers won by Santiago 4-3 on Tuesday and 6-5 on Wednesday. Last night’s game changed hands three times and Villa Clara almost turned the tables coming up one run short from tying in the bottom of the ninth.
Ronnier Mustelier and Rolando Merino (who has 14 homers and a league leading 48 RBIs) homered for Santiago while Yorkis La Rosa and Ariel Pestano did so for Villa Clara. Yaumier Sanchez (5-1) got the win with a save going to Owsmani Tamayo, his first of the season. Villa Clara’s star reliever Yolexis Ulacia (2-3) picked up the loss.
Holguin split a double header with Camaguey winning the opener 5-4 and Holguin the nightcap 6-1. Holguin starter Luis M. Rodriguez was brought on to close the second game picking up his first save. Ciego de Avila remained in second place in the East just ahead of Santiago by defeating Guantanamo 4-2 with Vladimir Garcia hitting his 13th homer. Holguin (28-18) is now in fourth two games ahead of Camaguey (26-20).
La Habana (30-15), the Western Division leaders, won an 11-8 slugfest over Metropolitanos (22-24). La Habana star pitcher Jonder Martinez (5-1) left after six innings with the score 8-2 but the relief staff almost blew the game. La Habana is seven games up on second place Pinar del Rio and 8.5 ahead of Metropolitanos.
In other action on Wednesday, last place Granma scored seven runs in the bottom of the eighth to beat Las Tunas 16-12 in the first game of a double header. In the second game Granma scored two in the bottom of the ninth to win 7-5. Struggling Industriales (17-28), the favorite team of the Cuban capital, scored a run in the bottom of the 12th inning to win 4-3 over Matanzas (18-28). Arleys Sanchez picked up only his second win of the season with four losses.
Isla de la Juvented (19-26), in the fight for a playoff spot in the West, defeated Cienfuegos 8-6 with Wilber Perez (7-2) getting the win. In the other game played, Pinar del Rio’s Yuniesky Maya (9-1) continued his march towards a ticket to the World Baseball Classic with a 5-4 win over Sancti Spiritus (17-28). Donal Duarte homered for Pinar (23-22) and Frederich Cepeda had two blasts for the losers.
Just over half way through the 90-game season Yuniesky Maya (PRI), Yadier Pedroso (HAB) and Wilber Perez (IJV) are the three pitchers with ERAs under 2.00. Of the batters, Yusniel Ibañez of Cienfuegos, leads the league with a .403 average followed by Leslie Anderson (Camaguey) .393 and Enrique E. Diaz (Metropolitanos) .385.