2021 Cuban Finals: Cocodrilos hold off Alazanes to win Game 3, 3-1
The Matanzas Cocodrilos beat the Granma Alazanes 3-1 in Game 3 of the 2021 Cuban Finals in a game they had to win, breaking the Alazanes’ four-game winning streak in the postseason.
Naykel Cruz threw a long and exceptional relief, Matanzas hitters took care of undefeated starter César García, and the Cocodrilos showed they were ready for another comeback beating the Alazanes 3-1 in Game 3 on Wednesday afternoon to cut their deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven Cuban Finals.
Matanzas, trailing the series 2-0, led the scoring with an RBI single in the third inning by left-fielder Ariel Sánchez after Eduardo Blanco and Yadil Mujica singled off of Granma’ starting pitcher César García.
The Cocodrilos added two more runs in the fourth inning when they loaded the bases and Aníbal Medina reached first base on an error by the Alazanes third baseman Osvaldo Abreu, scoring Erisbel Arruebarrena who had received a walk after Yariel Duque opened the frame with single. Minutes later Yadiel Mujica’ single sent home catcher Andrys Pérez, who was executing a sacrifice bunt after Arruebarrena’s walk and ended up with a single when Granma’ first baseman Guille Avilés couldn’t handle the ball. Matanzas’ 3-0 lead after four innings proved to be all they needed to take Game 3.
César García who had a 2-0 record and a 0.59 ERA in 15 1/3 innings this postseason, allowed 3 runs in 3 1/3 innings to see his eight-game winning streak broken.
The Alazanes got on the board in the top of the seventh inning on a solo-homer by center fielder Roel Santos making the final score 3-1.
But the talk of the game was lefty reliever Naykel Cruz, who entered the game on relief of starter Renner Rivero in the third inning. Cruz had an unexpected success in the Matanzas rotation during the regular season, starting 12 games and going 6-3, but Matanzas’ manager Armando Ferrer avoided him in that role during the previous postseason series. This time Cruz proved to be ready for something bigger and we can definitely say he was the savior of Game 3 with 6 2/3 effective relief innings in a key game for the defending champions.
“While I was warming up and was also following the game and mentally preparing each pitch. I knew I had to pitch well, there wasn’t other way, we had to win this game”, said Naykel Cruz after the game.
Matanzas manager Armando Ferrer also added, “He - Cruz - was great, with great velocity and mixing his pitches well, I think that was the key to victory”.
Rivero, who led Matanzas’ comeback against Las Tunas in the Cuban Semifinals winning Game 3 to avoid a 0-3 start of the series, on Wednesday afternoon didn’t have his best command and was pulled after 2 1/3 innings. Rivero didn’t allow a single or run during his outing, but walked three batters and hit three.
In the third inning Rivero left the bases loaded and Ferrer called upon Cruz to save the day, and the youngster didn’t disappoint. Cruz, making his debut in the series, induced a pop-out against Game 2 hero Raico Santos and then retired Carlos Benítez on a groundball to third baseman Mujica to strand the three runners and end the inning. These were probably the two most important outs of the game for Matanzas.
“We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had, in the third inning we had the bases loaded but there wasn’t any clutch hit and then Cruz came in relief and did an excellent job”, said Granma’s manager Carlos Martí after the game.
The Alazanes had one more real chance to score against Cruz, when they put two runners on in the sixth inning thanks to Raico Santos and Iván Prieto singles, but Cruz struck out DH Guillermo García to end the threat.
In the ninth, with already two outs, shortstop Yulián Milián singled to right field bringing home the possible tying run, but Cruz sealed his first Cuban Finals win fanning pinch-hitter Darién García. It was Cruz’ sixth strikeout of the game and his 107 pitch.
Here is what made this a must-win game for Matanzas: no team in the history of the Cuban Finals dating back to 1990 has ever come back to win after losing the first three games. The Cocodrilos made sure they would not be in that position.
Game 4 is Thursday at 2 p.m. (ET) and will feature Alazanes righty Joel Mojena against Game 3 starter, the Cocodrilos’ right-hander Renner Rivero.
National Series Finals
Mar 28, Game 1: Mtz 2, Grm 3
Mar 29, Game 2: Mtz 5, Grm 6
Mar 31, Game 3 - Grm 1, Mtz 3
Apr 1, Game 4 - 2 p.m. (ET): Probables, RHP Joel Mojena (Grm) vs. RHP Joel Suárez (Mtz)
Granma leads the best-of-seven series 2-1
(Top photo of Naykel Cruz: Ismael Francisco)