April is indeed the cruelest month–at least for the fans of baseball’s most colorful spectacle–and inevitably another Cuban League season has now wrapped up and shut down for the summer months. But not without a considerable bang and a final hurrah. Santiago’s powerful offense swept to a fourth straight win over Pinar del Rio last night to claim a second straight league title and eighth in club history. The championship run by the offense-minded Wasps (Avispas) tacked a final exclamation mark on National Series #47–a record-breaking campaign that witnessed some of the most impressive individual performances in recent league annals. Over the course of the 90-game season Pedro Luis Lazo (Pinar del Rio) finally claimed a new standard for lifetime pitching victories (236), Santiago’s Alexei Bell set new marks for single-season homers (31) and RBIs (111), southpaw Yulieski Gonzalez (Habana Province) rang up an unprecedented 15-0 pitching mark, Isla veteran Carlos Yanes also climbed over the 200 level in career wins, and Granma outfielders Alfredo Despaigne and Yoennis Cespedes became the first pair of teammates to log a total of 50-plus homers between them. But in the end the big story was again Santiago, and fittingly it was “Player-of-the-Year” Alexei Bell who knocked home the deciding run (off Pedro Lazo) in last night’s tight 2-1 finale.
Santiago de Cuba’s Eight National Series Championships
1980 Manager: Manuel Miyar
1989 Manager: Higinio Velez (current Cuban League commissioner)
1999 Manager: Higinio Velez
2000 Manager: Higinio Velez
2001 Manager: Higinio Velez
2005 Manager: Antonio Pacheco
2007 Manager: Antonio Pacheco
2008 Manager: Antonio Pacheco
2008 Championship Series Recap (National Series #47)
Game 1 – Santiago de Cuba 8, Pinar del Rio 2 (Guillermon Moncada Stadium)
Veteran ace Norge Vera cruised through a complete-game effort with plenty of support from his teammates’ 12-hit attack. Catcher Rolando Merino and outfielder Alexei Bell (above) both homered (Bell’s long-ball number 34 on the year) while national team second baseman Hector Olivera went 3-for-5 with a run-producing double. The game was put away with a seven-run fifth inning uprising against Pinar starter Yosvani Torres.
Game 2 – Santiago de Cuba 9, Pinar del Rio 2 (Guillermon Moncada Stadium)
Santiago’s relentless hitting was the story for the second straight day as timely offense dispatched Pinar ace Pedro Lazo. Merino and Bell (two for the latter) again both homered. Santiago starter Alberto Bicet suffered a quick hook from manager Antonio Pacheco in the opening frame, but young bull pen stud Yaumier Sanchez performed brilliantly with 8.2 effective relief innings.
Game 3 – Santiago de Cuba 10, Pinar del Rio 4 (Capitan San Luis Stadium)
All the Santiago scoring this time came in two innings (a 4-run third and 6-run seventh) as six Pinar pitchers failed to slow the Wasps’ championship express. Pedro Poll smacked two doubles and Merino knocked home three runs to lead still another impressive offensive charge. Osmany Tamayo was the winning Wasps pitcher, allowing but a single harmless hit in four wrap-up relief innings.
Game 4 – Santiago de Cuba 2, Pinar del Rio 1 (Capitan San Luis Stadium)
The most competitive match of the short series was broken open by Bell’s clutch single off the relief delivery of Lazo in the top of the eighth. Ronnier Mustelier’s solo shot in the third accounted for the other Santiago run. Middle reliever Reinier Roibal worked five effective innings after replacing starter Osmari Romero. Game 1 starter Norge Vera earned the championship save with a three-and-out ninth inning flawless performance. Pinar’s Yunieski Maya also hurled 7.1 strong innings yet suffered the ill-deserved loss when Lazo couldn’t retire Bell in the crucial eighth frame.