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65th Caribbean Series: 'Another disappointing farewell to arms' - Game 6 analysis

—Agricultores lost again, this time against Indios de Mayagüez, in another tough chapter in Cuba's Caribbean Series history.




Cuba 3, Puerto Rico 4: One out away from dreaming - or at least dreaming- of staying in Gran Caracas ahead of the Semifinal, Agricultores' advantage collapsed in the ninth inning: Indios de Mayagüez overcame their deficit with a sensational victory one strike away from losing.



After reaching the bottom of the ninth inning, the Agricultores' second baseman Carlos Benítez fumbled a leadoff connection by Indios de Mayagüez' Bryan Torres, concluding an already disappointing game. After six innings of work, where he had to use 96 pitches -four or more against 13 of his 23 opponents -, right-hander César García recorded a quality start.


As García handed the ball to relief pitcher 'Andy Rodríguez', he hoped the right-hander from Havana would maintain the narrow margin of one run until the end. There wasn't a typo: you read "Andy Rodriguez", as some board member - it is unknown who - wrote in the Agricultores lineup. Cuba's official lineup card can be seen here:



Of course, the name that should have been written down there was "Andy Vargas Lescaille" instead of "Andy Rodríguez", who has not been part of the national team since the last Pre-Olympic of the Americas, and today he is looking to fulfill the dream of debuting in Major League Baseball with the Texas Rangers. If you look closely, the only mistake is not Andy's last name, since confusion was also created with the Alarcón brothers, "Yosvany" being omitted for Yordanis. This type of oversight is not acceptable in a management body with a dozen members. Organizers of the tournament said if Cuba had won, their game would not have been confiscated. However, blunders of this magnitude leave much to be desired about a team's professionalism and approach.


No other way to put it: it was disappointing, as has been the team's overall performance. While the Agricultores have lost four games by a margin of one run or less - the last three by one run -, they have been inconsistent and not very aggressive. The trends in each setback have exposed an endless number of deficiencies, and the most notable are precisely those that affect the National Series year after year: aging teams, pitchers without the ability to effectively pitch in events where hitters with professional experience will challenge them. It is also the case with Cuban hitters, who have swings used to sloppy pitching, a lack of audacious repertoires, and, most often, a total lack of command.


Cuban baseball needs a complete overhaul in terms of quality and attitude. Cuban runners are often criticized for lacking aggression and having too little advantage, which is a common problem. Agricultores' fielders, regardless of physical errors, have demonstrated that getting an extra base can increase run expectations.


Cuban teams play in the only national league in the Caribbean area where catchers get more than 50% of runners who attempt to steal bases, and the reason is obvious: given the poor pitching in the National Series today, it is rarely necessary for managers to risk runners in attempts to steal.


Many will now argue that the Agricultores should have brought more reinforcements, which is absolutely reasonable. Nevertheless, was it not criticized in previous Caribbean Series editions that the Cuban champion team brought most of its players from other teams? Are you still able to recall those debates? Impossible to forget them! Unfortunately, no team from the last Cuban Baseball Elite League was prepared to compete at the level of the Caribbean Series without adequate reinforcements.


Once again, the Agricultores scored all their runs in one inning, as they did in the fourth and sixth innings against Colombia, where they lost 5-4, and in the fourth inning against Mexico, a game they lost 6-5. Singles by Carlos Benítez, Yordanis Alarcón—who has been on fire hitting 6-for-7 after being moved out of the third turn in the lineup— and Alexquemer Sánchez's sacrifice fly allowed Cuba to score three runs as early as the second inning, in another nightmare for veteran starter Daryl Thompson against Cuba.


Thompson, 37, was the right-hander that Frederich Cepeda mercilessly punished during the Semifinal of the Caribbean Series in San Juan, 2015, a Caribbean classic where the stellar leftfielder from Sancti Spiritus won the MVP award and the Vegueros de Pinar del Río were proclaimed champions under the management of Alfonso Urquiola. Thompson was hit hard with six hits and three earned runs in just 1.2 innings. To stop the momentum of Agricultores's hitters, left-handed Luis Leroy Cruz took the mound and literally handcuffed the Cuban lineup.


After putting out the fire in that third inning, Cruz pitched from the third to the sixth without a single hiccup, throwing just nine balls in 43 pitches. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Roby Enríquez tripled, and leadoff Bryan Torres singled to close the score to 3-2.


As a result, the ninth inning was tense. Leading off the inning, Daniel Ortíz singled, and pinch runner Bratt Rodríguez stole second base. Vargas capped off the rally by retiring the next two batters: Jesmel Valentine fouled out to third and Roby Enriquez grounded out to second, bringing Rodríguez to third base with the potential tying run. A walk by Brian Navarreto opened up the possibility of a force out at second.


This is so often the case in baseball: Bryan Torres detonated a rocket on a 0-2 count when he seemed dominated by Vargas, and Carlos Benítez couldn't even handle the ball. Rightfielder Alexquemer Sánchez also missed the ball, which went into deep right field.



Upon video review, the Cuban team breathed a sigh of relief, as the hit was declared a ground rule double. However, Emmanuel Rivera, Puerto Rico's third bat, adjusted his swing as he did when he first debuted in MLB last year with the Kansas City Royals. He delivered the decisive hit.



The offense failed again, and this time the defense joined the misfortune in another game dominated by pitching.


The Agricultores have lost their fifth consecutive game and are now one game away from saying goodbye to the 2023 Gran Caracas Caribbean Series.



Puerto Rico 4, Cuba 3/Final: A review


Final Numbers

Cuba (1-5): 3-12-2 (R-H-E)


-BATTING-

RBI: Benítez (1), Yor. Alarcón (4), Al. Sánchez (1)

SF: Al. Sánchez

SH: Larduet; De La Cruz

GIDP: Larduet

Team RISP: 4-9 (Avilés 0-1, Benítez 1-2, Larduet 1-1, Yor. Alarcón 1-2, De La Cruz 1-1, Santos 0-2)

Team LOB: 5

-RUNNING THE BASES-

SB: Yor. Alarcón (1, 2nd base of Webb/Navarreto)

CS: Santos (1, 2nd base of Thompson/Navarreto)

-FIELDING-

E: Benítez (1, fielding); De La Cruz (3, throwing)

DP: 3 (De La Cruz-Benítez-Viñales 2, Benítez-De La Cruz-Viñales)


Puerto Rico (3-3): 4-10-1 (R-H-E)


-BATTING-

2B: Ortíz (1, García)

3B: Enríquez (1, García)

RBI: Enríquez (2), Rivera (2), Torres (4)

RBI 2 outs: Rivera, Torres

GIDP: Rivera; Torres; Castro

Team RISP: 3-9 (Valentín 0-2, Navarreto 0-1, Enríquez 1-2, Rivera 1-1, Torres 1-3)

Team LOB: 9

-RUNNING THE BASES-

SB: Rodríguez (1, 2nd base of Vargas/Yos. Alarcón)

-FIELDING-

E: Cruz (0, tiro); Navarreto (1, tiro)

DP: 2 (Cruz-Machín, Valentín-Díaz-Machín)

Assistances: Torres (Yor. Alarcón at Home)


Notable Slash lines: Yordanis Alarcón is hitting better after being moved out of the third spot in the lineup. He was 3-for-3 against Colombia, and then against Puerto Rico he went 3-for-4, with a single and an RBI with RISP. Andrés De La Cruz had, once again, a hit, and Carlos Benítez (1-for-4, RBI, SF) and Alexquemer Sánchez (2-for-2, RBI, SF) produced runs in their debuts as starters.


Performance of pitchers:

-César García: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 HR

-Andy Vargas: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 0 HR


IBB: Castro (of Vargas).

HBP: Navarreto (of Vargas)


Strikes/Batters facing on the first pitch: García 11/23; Vargas 9/16

Strikes called-Strikes fanned-Foul balls-Strikes in play: García-14-7-19-19; Vargas-9-5-9-7

Ground balls and fly balls: García 8-5; Vargas 2-5


How did victory escape?: This is the second time the offensive-defense duo has failed. Agricultores has scored in just four of his last 17 innings. Third-hitters have been 0-for-12 in their last three games, with Guillermo Avilés, who is 0-for-8, taking the largest hit of the slump. It would be 0-for-14 if combined with Raico Santos' performance (0-for-6).


As a point of reference, we should keep the following in perspective: After the return to the Caribbean Series in 2014, the Cuban teams had a 4-1 record against the Puerto Rican teams, including the first victory in their return to the Caribbean Classic, 2-1, against the Indios de Mayagüez, led by the spectacular Vicyohandri Odelín of Camagüey, who used 132 pitches in a complete game.



(Photos: Archivo CBPC/AP/Calixto L. Llanes)

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