Why does one just have to love Cuban baseball – perhaps for no other reason than the fact that the island nation’s passion-filled alternative diamond universe can always be expected to provide the most amazing or perhaps even the most unprecedented scenario imaginable. Back in January 1969 a Cuban Leaguer somehow managed to bang into a triple play and yet produce a game-winning score in the process. (When did that ever happen in a North American big league ballpark?) On opening day in November 2009 Alexei Bell smacked a pair of grand slam homers in the very first inning of the season; and earlier the self-same Alexei Bell had once stroked three hits in a single post-season inning and also a pair of homers in the same inning of yet another playoff match. None of Bell’s remarkable feats have major league parallels. At the outset of the previous decade (2002) Sancti Spíritus phenom hurler Maels Rodríquez paced the National Series campaign in bases on balls allowed and yet at the same time struck out three times as many hitters as he walked in that most remarkable campaign. The list of such unparalleled Cuban League events seems almost endless. They might fill up an entire volume of rare baseball lore.
But now comes perhaps the least likely moment of them all. The island pattern of “better than could be even be dreamed up” baseball events held true once more this afternoon at Capitan San Luis Stadium in Pinar del Río when 26-season veteran Enriquito Díaz capped his long pursuit of Antonio Pacheco’s career base hits record in the most bizarre fashion imaginable. After rolling out harmlessly in each of his first two trips to the plate, the 43-year-old Metros designated hitter lined a sixth-inning single into center field off a two-out delivery from Pinar third-year right-hander Reinier Verano. The smash was not only Enriquito’s record-tying base-knock number 2,356 – it was also the first safety of the afternoon allowed by Verano. The Pinar stalwart had previous walked but two enemy hitters and faced only one above the minimum number of hitters through the first 5.2 frames. Thus Reinier Verano entered today’s sixth frame on the verge of writing his own name in the Cuban League record book, and then left the same inning with a rare record book listing of a far different and perhaps far less satisfying sort.
There has of course been no time for a thorough search of baseball’s almost endless archives stretching out across hundreds of leagues and more than a century and a half of league seasons. But it remains a virtual certainty that no player in the sport’s long history has ever broken up a late-inning (sixth inning or beyond) no-hit pitching effort with a safety that was also the league’s career record-breaker. The quarter-century sojourn of Enriquito Diaz has in large part remained under-appreciated within Cuba itself – and almost entirely unnoticed in the larger baseball world outside the island. But this afternoon in Pinar del Río Enrique Diaz fittingly stroked one of the loudest base hits ever recorded in the sport’s entertaining and surprising annals.