Caribbean Series 2015 Final: Viva la Revolucion Cubana del Beisbol
Ladies and Gentlemen, and baseball fans everywhere; Damas y Caballeros, y fanaticos del beisbol en todas partes,
On February 8, 2015, at Puerto Rico’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium, the Cuban Serie Nacional champion Pinar Del Rio baseball club; comprised of amateur players; successfully reconquered the professional winter baseball establishment, firmly replanted their flag on the international baseball landscape, and reclaimed their long-lost right to call themselves Campeones del Caribe.
After being welcomed back into the Caribbean circuit last year, the island nation wasted little time in clinching its 8th overall championship, and first since 1960 – their final year of international participation prior to Fidel Castro nationalizing baseball in Cuba.
Unlike the other four Caribbean participants, the Pinar Del Rio squad had no MLB affiliated players on its roster. They were solely reinforced with several of Cuba’s top remaining Serie Nacional players.
Despite posting a disappointing 1-3 record in pool play, Cuba managed to escape elimination at the expense of host Puerto Rico.
In the feature game of Saturday’s semifinals, Cuba staged a stunning, if not dramatic, come from behind upset over heavily favored and (to that point) undefeated Venezuela. In fact, Cuba scored more runs in their 8-4 victory over Venezuela than they had throughout 4 games of pool play.
Cuba then seized Sunday’s opportunity to end Mexico’s 2-year Caribbean reign with a traditional blend of good pitching and timely hitting.
2/8 – Recap: Caribbean Series 2015 Championship Game
Yosvani Torres climbed the hill for Cuba, and was opposed by Mexico southpaw Anthony Vasquez.
Cuba’s offense wasted no time opening up a lead over the defending champs.
With 2-outs in the 1st, second baseman Youleski Gourriel singled and scored on subsequent hits by left fielder Alfredo Despaigne, and the red hot Frederich Cepeda. Then with 1-out in the 2nd, another trio of hits and an RBI from third baseman Luis La O made it a 2-0 game.
Yosvani Torres faced the minimum over his first 4 innings pitched, walking none and fanning 4 along the way.
The defending champions finally countered in the 5th. Following first baseman Joey Meneses‘ lead-off ground rule double, shortstop Walter Ibarra‘s RBI single to right closed the gap to within a run.
Mexico’s Anthony Vasquez was relieved by Juan Delgadillo after 5 innings. He eventually settled down, but nevertheless exited after surrendering 2 earned runs on 7 hits.
Yosvani Torres stayed brilliant through 6 innings pitched, then yielded to reliever Livan Moinelo. Torres exited on the winning side of a 2-1 game after allowing a lone run on just 2 hits, no walks, and fanning five.
In the top of the 8th, second baseman Yulieski Gourriel seized the moment with his first home run of the tournament – a line drive to left against Juan Delgadillo that gave Cuba a critical 3-1 margin of insurance.
In the bottom of the 8th, Livan Moinelo issued a 2-out walk to Rico Noel and surrendered a single to Maxwell Leon, which prompted a pitching change by Cuban manager Alfonso Urquiola. Right fielder Eric Farris greeted incoming reliever Hector Mendoza with a base hit to right that scored Noel. Mendoza then retired Joey Meneses to preserve Cuba’s 3-2 lead.
In the top of the 9th, reliever Julian Arballo retired Cuba in order, setting the stage for the 2-time defending Caribbean champions’ potential final at-bat.
Hector Mendoza was again charged with pitching the bottom of the 9th, and did not disappoint. After retiring the first 2 batters, he struck out Walter Ibarra, swinging, to end the game and mark Cuba’s return to international greatness.
Starter Yosvani Torres earned the victory, and Hector Mendoza picked up the save.
Proud Mexico competed like defending champions (3 of the last 4 years) should, but were ultimately outdone by what is arguably the returning king. That’s a fascinating launching point for a brand new discussion. For now, this was perhaps as pure, entertaining, and compelling a 3-2 affair as you’ll find in any country, any league, any ball park, or any era of time.
When kept within the context that Cuban competition is a half-century in the remaking, this is certainly only the beginning internationally, and for Major League Baseball. The likes of Yasiel Puig, a 19-year old prospect such as Yoan Moncada, and even notable performances in this year’s tournament by Yulieski Gourriel and Frederich Cepeda are only scratching the surface.
They’ve been pounding on the international door ever since losing to Japan in the inaugural World Baseball Classic championship game of 2006.
On Sunday evening, they finally broke through.
We’re not talking Red Dawn here, but in one form or another, Cuba is inevitably coming to a major league park near you.
Aqui viene Cuba!