A near-capacity crowd at Estadio Màrtires de Barbados in Bayamo got to see an excellent ball game.
Pinar del Rio was in control of this game for the first eight innings. They got two runs in the top of the first on an RBI double by DH Donal Duarte, and an RBI single by 1B Ramon Lunar. They added a run in the fourth inning with a sacrifice fly by 3B Osniel Madera.
It looked for a long time like these three runs would be enough. Pinar del Rio got an excellent start from Erlis Casanova, who held Granma scoreless for five innings. Both he and reliever Livan Moinelo got some key strikeouts, and were also helped by double plays in the bottom of the first and fifth innings, a strikeout followed by a throw-out at second to end the second inning, and a good play by SS Yanciel Ajete to end the fourth inning with two runners left on base. Granma started the sixth inning with a base hit by SS Adrian Moreno, and Casanova turned the ball over to Moinelo. A long at-bat by LF Guillermo Jose Aviles resulted in a ground ball and Moreno out at second.
Granma finally got on the board with a leadoff home run over the right field fence by RF Urmani Guerra. Moinelo walked the next batter, and Granma sent in Lazaro Alfredo Cedeño Gonzalez to pinch-hit. He got good wood on the ball, but it was caught in centre field. Moinelo then got a big strikeout.
Pinar del Rio threatened to increase their lead in the top of the eighth. CF Randy Arrozarena drew a walk and stole second. However, the next batter, RF Andres Quiala, hit a ground ball, and Arrozarena was tagged out at third. Quiala was then caught stealing to end the inning.
Granma threatened in the bottom of the eighth. Moreno led off with a hit that was a ground ball deflected by Moinelo. Moinelo was then relieved by Vladimir Gutierrez, who proceeded to get a double play ball. (There was a video review of the out at first; yes, they do that in Cuba, too.) The next batter reached on the only error of the game. Pinar del Rio's catcher Olber Anier Peña's head was grazed by the swing of the bat, and he had to leave the game. Gutierrez recorded a strikeout to end the inning, and Granma had three outs left, trailing 3-1.
Granma got their third double play of the game in the top of the ninth. They started the bottom of the ninth with single by Cedeño. He was replaced by a pinch-runner, but it didn't matter; he was out at second when pinch-hitter Yaciel Jimenez hit into a fielder's choice. The next batter was out, but Moreno made it a one-run ball game with an RBI double. With two out, Aviles drew a walk. Then, with the count 3-2, DH Alfredo Despaigne hit a home run to end it.
Granma got good pitching as well. The starter, Alain Tamayo, went seven innings, allowed all three Pinar del Rio runs on 8 hits. Juan Ramon Olivera, who allowed one hit and walked one batter, got the win. Moreno was 3-for-5 for the game.
Box score and play-by-play
Despaigne was on the Cuban national team in 2014, and plays in Mexico in the off-season. Gutierrez was also on the national team.
Pinar de Rio is in western Cuba. They are 6-5 in the second phase of the Cuban National Series as of the day of this publication. (They lost again to Granma 9-2 the next night.) They finished in seventh place in the first phase. Granma is 7-4, tied with Matanzas for first place.
Cuba has an on-the-air all sport channel. (There is no cable in Cuba.) Three of the four National Series games played this day were televised.
Update on Feb. 13: Pinar del Rio competed in the Caribbean Series tournament in Puerto Rico Feb. 2-8. Gutierrez and another player, SS Dainer Moreira, defected. Story: Two Cubans playing in Caribbean Series defect Moreira played for Matanzas prior to the the defection; the rules of the Caribbean Series allow participating teams to add players to their roster.
Update on May 16: Gutierrez has established residence in Mexico, and will be eligible to sign as a free agent on July 2. Another Pinar del Rio player, Yordanis Linares, defected in April, but he didn't play in this particular game.
Official Cuban National Series site (in Spanish)