Playoffs 2021: Matanzas wins third in a row, 4-3 over Las Tunas, and takes 3-2 lead in Cuban Semis
After Game 5 of the semifinals between the Matanzas Cocodrilos and the Las Tunas Leñadores, Matanzas looks once again, like the team to beat in the 2021 Cuban playoffs.
A confident team is a dangerous team, the Matanzas Cocodrilos are very confident and just one win from advancing to the Cuban Final, after beating the Leñadores and his ace, Carlos Juan Viera, 4-3 in Game 5 Friday afternoon.
But how we got here?
With the series 2-0 up for Las Tunas, Game 3 was a huge missed opportunity for the Leñadores. They lost 1-0 against Renner Rivero and closer Joel Suárez, after having the chance of…basically bury Matanzas with a 3-0 up.
Then Game 4 was devastating, losing 12-7 – coming from behind 0-7 - in the first extra inning of the series, after 11 innings of battling a powerful roster led by the bat of Yadir Drake, who even added a Cuban postseason record, with six hits and 7 RBIs in the game.
In Game 5, Noelvis Entenza pumped his fist when center fielder Eduardo Blanco caught the final out of the game in the ninth, to complete his second save of the postseason in a 4-3 victory as the Cocodrilos seized a 3-2 lead in the series.
Game 2 winner, lefty Yudiel Rodríguez, will try to save Las Tunas’ season when he starts Game 6 Sunday afternoon. Matanzas, ready to finish another epic comeback, will send to the mound right-hander Noelvis Entenza.
But it was starter Yoenni Yera – Game 1 loser – who mowed down the Leñadores for six innings, giving up three earned runs to earn his first win of the series. Yera wasn’t as sharp as expected, but he was able to sustain a 4-2 lead until the sixth, when Las Tunas scored its last run of the game on Eduardo García’s double to center field.
Yera, who this year had a 3-0 record and 2.93 ERA in 27 2/3 innings pitching for the Algodoneros de Guasave in the Mexican Pacific Winter League, went six innings allowing nine hits, two walks and two struck outs. One of Yera’s strikeouts came in the sixth inning, when Las Tunas had the potential tying run on second, two outs and pinch hitter Denis Peña in a 2-2 count. Yera’s 100 pitch was an 81-mph curveball that Peña couldn’t find, and Yera’s excitement was evident celebrating the end of the inning and his outing. He knew was an important out.
The Cocodrilos starter gave up a RBI single to Danel Castro in the first inning. Yuniesky Larduet singled to start the inning and Andrés Quiala doubled sending Larduet to third. Larduet would score on Castro’s single but Las Tunas “big” first inning would be cut short, when Quiala tried to score from third on Yosvany Alarcón’s groundball to first baseman Yariel Duque, in one of the worst base running plays of the series.
Three innings later the Matanzas’ starter was again in trouble. Yera walked Rafael Viñales to start the fourth, and Yordanis Alarcón’ single to right field moved the runner to third. Yera retired the next two batters but speedy Héctor Castillo got the bunt down for a suicide squeeze play allowing Viñales to score to put Las Tunas 2-0 up.
Meanwhile Las Tunas starter Carlos Juan Viera was dominant during the first four innings, allowing two singles and a walk after facing the first 15 batters of the game. Precisely in the fourth Viera allowed the first two hits and walked Yadir Drake to load the bases, but then retired Juan M. Vázquez in a 4663 double play to end the inning. An inning later the story would be different.
In the fifth and facing Jefferson Delgado, Viera had his fourth struck out of the game, but then allowed back-to-back singles of Andrys Pérez and Eduardo Blanco. Then in a crazy managerial play - that ended up working well for Matanzas - Anibal Medina got the sacrifice bunt down moving the runners to scoring position. Moments later, Yadil Mujica, Ariel Sánchez, and Yariel Duque all singled and Yadir Drake hit a doubled to right-center field, to complete a Matanzas’ four-run rally for a decisive 4-2 lead.
Viera would end the game – in a foolish move by manager Pablo Civil -, allowing four runs on 11 hits, six strikeouts and four walks. The right-hander threw 132 pitches and won’t be available for the rest of the series.
When Yera was forced to leave after 100 pitches, veteran Jonder Martínez relieved and was able to complete 1 1/3 scoreless innings allowing two hits and a strikeout. In the eighth after Yordanis Alarcón’s single, Noelvis Entenza took over and faced the tying run. But Entenza got pinch hitter Jorge Yhonson on a grounder for a 4663 double play to end the threat.
In the ninth, with already two outs, Entenza issued a walk to Larduet but then Quiala hit a routine fly to center field that got Entenza celebrating.
National Series Semifinals
Mar 7, Game 1: Ltu 4, Mtz 2
Mar 8, Game 2: Ltu 10, Mtz 6
Mar 10, Game 3: Mtz 1, Ltu 0
Mar 11, Game 4: Mtz 12, Ltu 7 (11 Inn)
Mar 12, Game 5: Mtz 4, Ltu 3
Mar 13, Game 6 - 1 p.m. (ET): Probables, LHP Yudiel Rodríguez (Ltu) vs. RHP Noelvis Entenza (Mtz)
Matanzas leads the best-of-seven series 3-2
(Top photo of Team Matanzas: Oscar Alfonso/Photo of Yoenni Yera: GameTime Sport)