In a rare bit of potential future barroom trivia, the eleventh Cuban All-Star Game of the modern era ended with an unprecedented walkoff homer from the bat of a visiting team slugger. The heroics were provided by hefty Occidentales backup catcher Yosvany Peraza (Pinar del Rio), who drove a delivery from righty Jorge Luis Longa (Ciego de Avila) deep into the left field bleachers to send the visiting West squad home 6-5 winners. The rarity of a visiting team "walkoff" was provided via a unique league decision to allow the visiting all-stars to bat last in this year’s match at Santiago’s picturesque Guillermon Moncada Stadium. The final blast was the third long-ball of the tense see-saw contest–the others coming off the bats of a pair of Santiago regulars, Alexei Bell and Rolando Merino–and provided the Occidentales with a 12-11 lead in the overall series (including earlier-epoch games played strictly in Havana between 1963 and 1994). Industriales hurler Alexei Gil was the game winner (in relief) in a thrilling contest played before a packed house and a nation-wide television audience. It was the second time in recent seasons that a Cuban all-star game has ended in sudden-death fashion, with Danel Castro (Las Tunas) providing a similar walk-off ending to the 2004 affair staged in Santa Clara.
Peraza’s memorable shot (pictured here) provided a perfect ending to a weekend of thrills which included a hard-fought (and seriously played) Veterans Game and a showcase home run hitting contest, both on Saturday evening. The old-timers match fell to the Orientales 11-7 and was decided by a dramatic grandslam homer off the bat of career base-hits leader and current Santiago manager Antonio Pacheco. The popular long-ball contest was captured by WBC star Yulieski Gourriel (Sancti Spiritus) who smashed eight; Gourriel was trailed in the contest by Juan Carlos Pedroso (Las Tunas, 7), Yoennis Cespedes (Granma, 4), and Yosvany Peraza and Jose Julio Ruiz (Santiago) with three apiece. The remaining seven competitors in the showcase contest included veterans (i.e., old-timers) Pacheco and Villa Clara manager Victor Mesa (who actually won this event back in 2000). Full details of the Cuban all-star weekend (including video clips of Peraza’s dramatic homer and other highlights) can be found on the USA-based Cuban League website at www.baseballdecuba.com. That site also contains my own detailed essay on the past history and special features of Cuba’s mid-season all-star classic.
I will be back in Cuba during the coming week, visiting Havana (for the Industriales-Metros inter-city rivalry series) and Sancti Spiritus (for games between Pinar del Rio and the host Gallos) and checking out the opening days of the second half of league play. I will be blogging further about the developing National Series #47 after my return from the island in mid-February.