Santiago de Cuba won 6-4 Monday over Industriales, the home team, to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Cuban baseball championship series before an electrified stadium bursting with some 55,000 fans.
More than a game, it was like a play in nine acts—an all out struggle between two teams that both knew the importance of winning the fifth game of the series. It was also a duel during five innings between two top notch pitchers from the Cuban Olympic Champion team, Norge Luis Vera (Santiago) and Frank Montieth (Industriales), who both battled in and out of jams with control problems, Granma daily reported.
Vera needed 60 pitches just to get through the first three innings, including 32 balls which yielded a dangerous six walks in the first two innings. Montieth wasn’t at his best either, throwing 49 pitches in the first third of the game including 22 outside the strike zone.
With the score tied 1-1 and two out in the fifth, the direction of the game took shape. Facing Montieth, leadoff hitter Ronnier Mustelier hit a first pitch fastball over the left field fence. An instant later, Hector Olivera blasted a one-and-one pitch to the same bleachers for a 3-1 lead that Santiago would never relinquish.
Nonetheless, the winning margin came in the sixth. Montieth loaded the bases with three walks and one out. Industriales manager Rey Anglada brought in Sandy Ojito to take charge of the tense situation and he quickly got out number two on a harmless pop up by Reutilio Hurtado to short. However, the ninth hitter in the lineup, Maikel Castellanos, then belted a drive over center fielder Carlos Tabares’ head that cleaned the bases and put the game at 6-1.
But Industriales didn’t give up. They scored a run in the bottom of the sixth on a pinch hit RBI single by Alejandro Regueira scoring Yasser Gomez. Then in the seventh, Alexander Mayeta smacked a two-run homer off Santiago reliever Alberto Bicet bringing the home team to within two runs at 6-4. It was Mayeta’s record breaking eighth play-off homerun.
The blast sent Bicet to the showers and Santiago manager Antonio Pacheco brought in closer Felix Rivera, who once again showed he can dominate Industriales batters. Rivera put out the fire retiring seven of the eight batters he faced with one single in between.
Santiago infielder Luis Navas made a couple big plays to help his team. While he started the game at short he was moved to second base in the seventh when Hector Olivera left the game. In the eighth he took a hit away from Enrique Diaz with a runner on second. Rivera struck out three and didn’t allow a walk to get the save.
Industriales’ inability to capitalize on Vera’s six walks in the opening two innings or on Santiago’s two fielding errors, has put the defending champs in the hole after rebounding from a 2-0 series deficit to tie 2-2. In all, both teams batted six hits and received seven walks each.
The intense rivalry now returns to Santiago for the sixth and possible seventh game.Last year, it was Industriales that won the championship by defeating Santiago four games to two.
With Tuesday a travel day, the probable pitchers on Wednesday are left-hander Albert Carrion for Santiago and right-hander Deinys Suarez for Industriales.