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Final I Elite League: Unstoppable reaction

In best-of-seven playoff series, Game 3 can be quite influential, and that was the case in the Final of the I Cuban Baseball Elite League (I LEBC).

The Portuarios team surprised Agricultores after a couple of victories at the Mártires de Barbados stadium, the team that has displayed the highest level during the tournament. Portuarios would have practically won the Final with a third consecutive win at Nelson Fernández. However, Agricultores came back from a 7-3 deficit midway through the game to win 14-9. After achieving their first win and launching another unstoppable offensive attack, Agricultores changed this Final for the better. They will come out focused on Wednesday, with the possibility of tying the series at 2-2 and forcing a return home. A win in Game 4 could open the door to glory for Portuarios in front of their home crowd. If, however, they are defeated, they would have to grow up and face another challenge.

Though there have been several moments of pressure and emotions after each comeback, this has been a disappointing Elite League Final. With the change from the Teammate-120 ball to the 190, the pitchers' dominance has ended. Out of 333 pitches, pitchers were able to induce just 6.3% of non-contact swings in Tuesday's Game 3. As of now, Agricultores have a 2-1 lead in the series, and these were the factors contributing to Farmers' unstoppable victory in Game 3:

The lethal "combo" led by the Alarcón brothers

It is no secret to any pitcher in the Elite League that at-bats against the Agricultores' lineup require the greatest concentration on a daily basis. Undoubtedly, Yordanis and Yosvany Alarcón find the fewest runners on base as a key to their success. All season long, the Agricultores have relied on the efficiency of their lineup.

A quality at-bat can be assured with Yuniesky Larduet and Osvaldo Abreu as leadoff and second hitters, respectively. Afterwards, pitchers face the most demanding hitters, the Alarcón brothers batting third and fourth, Rafael Viñales batting fifth, and a playoff MVP like Guillermo Avilés waiting to finish the job of producing runs. In addition, the "clutch" hitter machinery continues with the move of shortstop Andrés de La Cruz to the seventh spot. During the regular season, opposing pitchers had a hard time dominating the Agricultores' lineup. Against Portuarios, that story hasn't changed, and Game 3 was another instance where Agricultores' offensive "combo" was on fire: the hitters from the third to the seventh turn combined to produce 13-for-24! Yes, that happened. They hit .542! — scoring 10 of the team's 14 runs, 13 of the 17 hits, eight of the nine extra bases, all four home runs, and 13 of the 14 RBIs. That was devastating! As usual, the Alarcón brothers led the attack. Yordanis, who led off the fifth inning with an inspirational home run against Portuarios starter Raymond Figueredo, was 3-for-5, scored three runs, and had a double, a home run, and two RBIs. Yosvany, who usually attacks the first pitch, cut back on his aggression at the plate and saw 18 pitches. He missed a single turn with runners on bases, and closed the afternoon with a 4-for-6 performance, four runs scored, five RBIs, and two extra-base hits, including a triple and a home run that knocked out Portuarios at the start of the ninth against reliever Juan Xavier Peñalver.

The Alarcón brothers' performance was key to the Agricultores' success in Game 3: they were 7-for-11, scoring and driving in half of the team's runs. Yes, when you have two hitters of the caliber of the Alarcón brothers, who have crushed pitch after pitch in the LEBC, that can happen. Behind the Alarcóns, the swings of Avilés and De La Cruz were also decisive. De La Cruz hit a long double against Pedro Álvarez, who evened the score, 8-8 at the start of the sixth. And two innings later, in the eighth, Avilés broke a 9-9 tie, blasting a huge home run to deep rightfield off Marlon Vega. After the mistake...

After the first battle in Game 1, where Portuarios defeated Agricultores 13-11 in a 35-hit combined game, we don't need to remind ourselves that the offense is ruling this Final. For that reason, every mistake (physical or mental) could dangerously increase the odds of scoring runs. For Portuarios, that trend was fateful this Tuesday in Game 3, where three fielder's errors cost them five runs:

1) Alexquemer Sánchez opened the seventh inning with a double to left. Taking advantage of his speed and a passed-ball from catcher Oscar Valdés, he was able to get to third base safely. Osvaldo Abreu gave the team the lead, 9-8, with a sacrifice fly after Yuniesky Larduet gave up the first out with a fly to center. Yordanis Alarcón ended the inning with a 53 groundball. So when we reconstruct the inning, without the passed ball, the runner would have ended up on third.

2) In left field, Denis Laza missed a routine fly ball by Rafael Viñales. That would have been the second out of the eighth inning. Right after, Avilés' home run against Marlon Vega drove in a couple of decisive runs.

3) With the score at 11-9, Larduet grounded out to first base and was safe due to an error by Yasiel Santoya. That would have been the second out of the inning, and Abreu's groundout to second closed out the inning for right-handed Elder Nodal. But the real story was that Nodal ended up walking Yordanis Alarcón, and then Yosvany hit a killer home run against right-handed Juan Xavier Peñalver.

With a bullpen that looked vulnerable without the presence of right-hander Andy Vargas, defensive errors led to potential runs for Agricultores. Without those three errors, the score would have been 9-9. This time, the Agricultores' errors—committed by catcher Iván Prieto and first baseman Guillermo Avilés, both on foul flies—had no incidents. Yoel Mogena's Dominant Effect

As happened in Game 1, this Tuesday the trends led to another offensive game: both teams combined to score 23 runs, 29 hits, 14 extra bases (five doubles, one triple and eight home runs), in addition to nine walks. And, regarding the defensive aspect, there were also costly errors by both teams, especially from catchers and infielders, who lost several fly balls in foul territory. In spite of the raging wind and poor outfield conditions, the pitchers' helpless weapons undoubtedly gave way to the hitters' hearty production. *One of the most compelling examples occurred during the fourth inning, when Alexander Pozo hit an inside-the park homer with the bases loaded and Agricultores center fielder Yuniesky Larduet misread the connection. Next, Denis Laza delivered a foul fly that Guillermo Aviles couldn't field, and another fly ball to center ended the game. There would have been two fewer runs scored at the end of the fourth inning for Portuarios. The starters of the game, Raymond Figueredo (vs. Agricultores: 4 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO, 2 HR) and the lefty Ángel Sánchez (vs. Portuarios: 3 ⅓ IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, BB, 4 SO, 2 HR), were destroyed with a combined 13 hits, four home runs, and nine earned runs allowed in just 7 ⅔ innings.*

*Iván Prieto (0-for-5) for Agricultores, and Denis Laza (0-for-5) and Rangel Ramos (0-for-3) for Portuarios, were the only players that went hitless in the game. Following a semifinal marked by pure leadership from the starting pitchers, the manager has yet to receive any contributions from his starters against Portuarios. The Agricultores' starters have not recorded a quality outing since the semifinal, when they started three out of four games against Tabacaleros. Although they were ineffective, right-handed relievers Yoel Mogena and Kelbis Rodriguez emerged as the most dominant bullpen arms.*

*Kelbis Rodríguez, had an excellent relief of six scoreless innings in Game 1, and has recorded 15 strikeouts and only one walk in 15 innings against the Portuarios' lineup throughout the season. After an effective relief in Game 2, retiring 13 hitters in a row, Mogena once again stopped the Portuarios's offense.

Despite Agricultores' comeback, scoring in all five innings starting with the fifth, Mogena stopped Portuarios' momentum. That's what he did. His only mistake was against Roberto Acevedo, who hit a solo homer that tied the score, 9-9, after two outs in the bottom of the seventh.

Then, Mogena's last two innings were impeccable: he retired all his opponents, ending a four-inning relief run. He was 1-for-12 against the opposition during that period. Despite a regular season far from his finest, Mogena's pitches have consistently made a difference. It is true that his dominance formula does not involve power pitches, but he has done a good job of combining speed with a strong command of the game.

Even though he didn't reach 88 mph, he threw the Portuarios hitters off balance and met expectations.

As the series stands at 2-1 in Portuarios' favor, Agricultores' reaction could change the fate of Game 4 of the Final.

(Photo: Yosvany Alarcón/Radio Bayamo)



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