Lumberjacks Achieve the Throne of the National Baseball Series

The champions, Las Tunas, already have to start preparations to go to battle in the Caribbean Series in Barquisimeto. (Granma/Ricardo López Hevia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 18 January 2019 — With four victories against one loss in the final, the Las Tunas team has just made their debut at the top of Cuban baseball against the orange Leopards who neither gave nor asked for a truce, and won 9-4 in the third encounter and lost by scores of 13-6 , 8-4, 7-5 and 8-4, in the first, second, fourth and fifth games, respectively.

After prevailing in their home at Mella stadium, the Lumberjacks arrived at Sandino stadium where the public pondered the defeat. After the start of the duel, Freddy Asiel Álvarez vs. Yoanni Yera, and an inning in which the Tuneros scored four runs against the orange starter, he righted himself and his teammates made a historic comeback. Afterwards Pablo Guillén ended things, striking out six of the ten men he faced to seal the victory.

The second game in Santa Clara was eminently tactical, with many emotions and controversial decisions. Alain Sánchez and Leandro Martínez started and again the Leopards fought hard, but the lockdown pitching by Yudier Rodríguez and Yoelkis Cruz — the great starters converted by wise decision into great closers — allowed the success that put the home team on the edge of elimination.

The final match at the Sandino was worthy of the grand final. If the Leopards opened by biting fast, the Lumberjacks used that deadly method that has become their hallmark: the epic comebacks every time the opponent takes the lead. The hero of the game, Jorge Johnson, defined the triumph driving in a run in the seventh to make the score 5-4, but, just in case, in the ninth he connected with the hit of the championship, a three run homer. Although Villa Clara threatened by loading the bases with one out, they could not pull it off.

The 39-year-old veteran Yoelkis Cruz-who participated in all five and saved four games- again shone in closing with the victory going to Yadián Martínez, who was credited with the last two wins in Las Tunas.

Although with their gold medal Las Tunas fulfilled the predicitions of many throughout the season, they also broke the supposed curse that the leader in the qualifying round never wins the championship in the end. Either way, this crown is the greatest collective sports success in the 42-year history of the province.

That’s what the “family-team” of manager Pablo Civil was aiming for since he took the field on August 9 to fight for each game as if it were the decisive one, with cohesion and function in all aspects, fast and powerful, where even the last man could be the first, without improvisation, with a heart called Danel Castro (“Without Danel there is no championship!”, the Tuneran fans shouted and sang from the beginning) and a captain like Yosvani Alarcón.

The designated hitter, who is as old as his province, was joyful: “This is big, big, I was a champion with Villa Cara, but with Las Tunas it’s something else. It was what I was dreaming about for my sports career. Now I am enjoying this and we will see what happens next year. I’ll have to think about whether I’ll retire or not. ”

For their part, the Sugarmakers returned along with their leopard mascot to the elite of Cuban baseball, improving with silver medal from their eighth place finish in the previous series and thus achieving its tenth subtitle in the national classic. Eduardo Paret could not make a better debut. Sancti Spíritus, bronze, deserves the most repeated praise.

While the statistics speak for themselves, they do not sufficiently explain the crown for Las Tunas. Although their success was seen coming since 2017, it is based on  very long, patient and focused work, which began prior to Pablo Civil and his excellent body of physical trainers. Suffice it to remember that Ermidelio Urrutia, who played with them, and later managed them also feels happy today with this laurel.

Along the way back to their home territorry, the Lumberjacks have been cheered by admiring crowds, including by their recently defeated Villa Clara and Avilanian rivals. In Camagüey, of course, the celebration was huge, since Dariel Góngora and Alexander Ayala are from there, two of the architects of the triumph. In Las Tunas, of course, who knows how long the fun and madness will last.

But the athletes can’t celebrate too much, because after a short break, they have to start preparing to go to battle in the Caribbean Series in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, between February 2 and 8, against Puerto Rico, Mexico, Dominican Republic and the hosts. Some hope that Las Tunas, reinforced with other good players from the championship series, will help raise at this time the self-esteem of the depressed nature of our national baseball.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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