“It could only happen in the Cuban League – where baseball remains the most entertaining simply because it is not only the purest in spirit but also frequently the most bizarre in spectacle.” How many times have I written those and similar words on this blog site and in my numerous columns for www.BaseballdeCuba.com? But now how about this one – if we are looking for diamond scenarios truly unparalleled in baseball lore?
A team opens a three-game set on its home field and drubs the visiting opponent 7-0 in the opener and then again 11-0 on the following afternoon, with the second contest actually ended after only seven frames by the league’s ten-run-margin “mercy rule. The home team outscores the opposition by a composite 18-0 margin and outhits then 24-5 over the two days. And what is the end result of those two matches? It is a two-game split, with a Sunday rubber match now looming on the horizon.
How could this happen? Only because of the oddest of forfeits brought about by the Cuban League’s unorthodox rule that for several seasons now has allowed teams to maintain 32-man rosters but also stipulates that only 26 ballplayers are eligible for any given game. The list of “eligible” players must be provided to the umpires before the start of each day’s contest, and “reserve” players can be shifted back and forth to and from the official roster daily.
During Friday’s series opener in José Antonio Huelga Stadium, Sancti Spíritus rookie skipper Ruperto Zamora committed the cardinal sin of inserting reserve catcher Sefer Rios as an eighth-inning pinch runner at third base with his club safely ahead 7-0 in their last at-bat. The problem was that Sefer Rios had not been included on the list of “eligible players” exchanged by the managers before the opening pitch. When skipper Luis Sánchez of losing Havana Metros protested to league officials at the end of the contest the game inevitably went into the record books as an embarrassing forfeit loss for the home club.
Ironically this was actually the second time that the same Sancti Spíritus club has commented this rare oversight during recent seasons. Back on Christmas Eve of 2008 (the first month of National Series #48) in this same Sancti Spíritus ballpark, then-Gallos manager Juan Castro replaced his shell-shocked starting pitcher in the first frame of a doubleheader nightcap versus Havana Industriales. Almost immediately Castro (a former all-star catcher himself) realized that his newly inserted reliever Dany González was not on the official roster of eligible and available ballplayers. Since González had been officially announced, and since the first pitch he hurled would create a forfeit scenario, skipper Castro order his hurler to sit on the mound and not toss a single delivery to waiting batsman David Remedios. After a delay of nearly an hour and a half, umpires ordered the game to continue or an immediate forfeit would result. González then tossed three straight pitches past Remedios for what entered into Cuban baseball lore as baseball’s only-known (non-rain induced) 85-minute strikeout. Since Industriales went on to plate 11 runs before that first inning concluded, and since the game ended in a 14-4 Industriales “mercy rule” victory, visiting skipper German Mesa never lodged an official protest.