Playoffs I Elite League: Epic comeback! Portuarios eliminates Centrales and will play for the title
Baseball fans believe they have an amazing story, a game, a play, an inning, a situation, a player or a victory in our list of never-before-seen events. As we watched Game 6 of the Semifinal between Portuarios and Centrales this Wednesday at the Victoria de Girón stadium, I dare say that it challenged our memories and experiences.
Where should we begin our daily postseason retrospective? I think this particular moment will remain in my memory, since I inevitably thought: seventh inning....bases loaded... Centrales has a seven-run lead and... I know Portuarios will fight until the end but... can they overcome this huge deficit? It's impossible!
However, the perspectives began to change in a dangerous way. In the batting box Denis Laza pointed to the Portuarios dugout, letting them know that he was ready to focus on his at-bat.
A loaded bases situation started the seventh inning, with Centrals leading 8-1. As Centrales commanded a seven-run lead with nine outs left, it was evident that they were confident in a victory. Centrales had scored runs in every inning except the fourth. Even though - at the end - it looked like an easy victory for Portuarios, in reality, it was not, and the possibility of having Game 7 was there.
Yera, the left-hander from Matanzas, had held Portuarios at bay for five innings with great effectiveness. In the second inning, Yera returned to his normal level, adding velocity to his pitches and commanding the ball, after allowing two hits and a run in the first inning.
Ultimately, he struck out the side to close the fifth inning. His last opponent was Yasniel González, whom he pulverized with a changeup in the outside corner, leaving two runners stranded.
It was Yamichel Pérez, the lefty pitcher for Centrales, who had retired the sixth inning easily, but the Portuarios team, as in Games 2 and 5, did not give up. But suddenly, the Victoria de Girón stadium "was soaked with rain". Certainly, the change in weather was offensive, but it can be attributed to one thing only: Portuarios' unstoppable hitters.
In that epic inning, Denis Laza drove in the first two runs with a line-drive to left field facing the new reliever, right-handed Hermes González. Two runs were scored by Rangel Ramos and Lázaro Martínez, both singled off Yamichel Pérez, to cut the score 8-3. Alexander Pozo moved to second after a single, and was drove home by Yasniel González' single to center.
Centrales 8, Portuarios 4. Yamichel Pérez had not yet been removed from the game and then Oscar Valdés, Portuarios' sixth hitter, was up with Laza at second and Yasniel at first. And although Hermes González's pitches were being destroyed by Portuarios' hitters, Centrales' manager Armando Ferrer still kept him in the game.
Probably Centrales' manager had in mind that the bottom of the lineup - sixth to ninth hitters - of Portuarios had gone 1-15 all day. Of course, the decision was probably made hoping that González would dominate and, at the same time, give Naykel Yoel Cruz time to warm up in the bullpen. But then Oscar Valdes - even when he didn't seem comfortable with a couple of pitches to the outside corner - followed with single to right field to load the bases.
Ferrer did not wait any longer: he sent Naykel to the mound, hoping that the talented left-hander would slow down Portuarios' momentum. Naykel quickly challenged Yasiel Santoya, who had no single in his last eight at-bats. However, on a 1-2 count, Santoya hit a grounding single to center, bringing Portuarios to within two runs, 8-6. That was the seventh consecutive hit that Portuarios had against Centrales' pitchers in the seventh inning.
That was disconcerting. Absurd: During the regular season, there were 104 games in which a winning or losing team had at least seven hits… And Portuarios got them all consecutively with no outs in that explosive seventh inning! For Centrales' bullpen, the impact was devastating. They still led by two runs, 8-6, but, to be honest, they needed to get out of that inning quickly.
The terrible news for the team and the Centrales fans was that Portuarios was able to come back from behind. Naykel Yoel Cruz ended his performance after hitting Jorge Enrique Alomá with a pitch, who was trying to bunt. Right-handed Randy Cueto came up to pitch with bases loaded and got Roberto Acevedo out, but then Rangel Ramos made it 8-7 with his second single of the inning.
Throughout the game, Centrales' defense was terrible. They had made three errors, but only one of them cost them a run, the one by Yusniel Ibáñez in the first inning.*
Portuarios' eight-hit attack was decisive in the epic comeback. However, they managed to materialize it due to another poor defensive play by the Centrales, this time at a key moment. The bases were still loaded, and the infielders had a chance to save the game with a double play. Lázaro Martínez hit a ground ball that threatened to go to center field. Quickly, second baseman Yadil Mujica showed off his movement, made a great play and stepped on second for the first out, but then made a decisive error on his throw to first baseman Ariel Martínez. It was enough for Portuarios that completed the comeback, scoring the final two runs!
About the play, there are two valid points I want to make here: Mujica had little chance of getting out Lázaro Martínez, Portuarios' leadoff hitter, at first base. At the same time, Ariel Martínez, who doesn't have a lot of experience playing first base, couldn't block the ball either. The throw went under his legs, and that was enough for runner Yoasán Guillén who score from second.
Centrales had a chance to tie the game in the eighth with runner Yusniel Ibáñez, but outfielder Laza relayed to Martínez and Ibáñez was thrown out at the plate trying to score the tying run.
It was impossible for the Portuarios players to contain their excitement. Imagine, as they began the seventh inning trailing by seven runs, they rallied for a 9-8 victory. The eight-run rally with seven consecutive hits clinched Portuarios' victory.
Unlike Game 5, this time manager Michael González gave the ball to closer Andy Vargas, and he got the final nine outs. And, although it seemed incredible: Portuarios came back and will discuss the final of the I Elite League of Cuban Baseball!