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Playoffs 2021: Arruebarena’s three-run homer lift Cocodrilos to victory, and the Cuban Finals


The Matanzas Cocodrilos completed the task, defeating the Las Tunas Leñadores 6-3 in Game 6 on Sunday to clinch back-to-back trips to the Cuban Finals.


After losing two straight games to start the Cuban Semifinals, the defending champions won four in a row to win the series and clinch the team’s fourth Cuban Finals (2020, 2014, 2013).



Yadir Drake hit a two-run homer off starter Yudiel Rodríguez to put the Cocodrilos 2-0 up in the third inning, and then Erisbel Arruebarena hit a decisive three-run homer in the seventh to cap off Matanzas’ offensive output.


After winning 44 games during the regular season, the Cocodrilos will be in search of back-to-back National Series titles, when they take on the 48-games winner the Granma Alazanes in the Finals.


Matanzas’ previous trip to the finals was last year, when they beat Camagüey in six games to win its first NS title.



Game 6 of the series began as a pitching duel between Yudiel Rodríguez – winner of Game 2 – and Noelvis Entenza, the loser in that game. Both starters held the opposition scoreless through the first two innings, even when they had to work hard in the initial frame.


The Leñadores missed a great opportunity of taking the lead against Entenza in the first inning. With runners on third - Andrés Quiala’ single - and second - Danel Castro’s double -, third baseman Yadil Mujica fielded Yosvany Alarcón’ grounder and saw that Quiala was too far from the base and decided to run towards third base instead of throwing to first baseman Yasiel Santoya. When Quiala realized it was too late, and he was put out trying to return to the base in a dumb base running play. That play allowed Entenza to escape in the inning and make him complete the first four innings scoreless.


Matanzas loaded the bases with two walks and a single in the bottom of the first against Rodríguez, an inning when Las Tunas starter threw 26 pitches, but Rodríguez was able to get out of the jam retiring Yasiel Santoya in a groundball to second.


In the third Matanzas got to Rodríguez. With already two outs, Arruebarena singled and Yadiel Drake followed with a two-run shot for an early 2-0 lead. It was Drake’s 10 RBI of the last three games.




An inning later Matanzas made it 3-0. Ariel Sánchez doubled to centerfield, Andrys Pérez moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt down the third base line, and when Rodríguez went to first base, he threw it past first baseman Santoya, allowing Sánchez to score.


Things would remain scoreless for Las Tunas until the fourth inning when the Leñadores finally broke through off Entenza. Manuel Ávila singled to start the inning and was forced in second after Mujica’s stellar defensive play at third over speedy Héctor Castillo’ groundball. In a hit and run play Yuniesky Larduet followed with a single to left, Castillo made it to third and then raced for home when the throw – that was on time and was about to beat him - skipped past the catcher allowing him to score for Las Tunas’ first run of the game. Quiala would follow with a double that brought home Larduet for the 3-2.


Entenza’s outing ended after facing three batters in the seventh, getting one out and giving up a walk to Yuniesky Larduet and an Andrés Quiala single. Matanzas’s manager Armando Ferrer didn’t want to risk anything and gave the ball to Joel Suárez, winner of Game 4. The right-hander hit Danel Castro with his first pitch loading the bases, and then Yosvany Alarcón sacrifice fly to center field allowed Larduet to score from third tying the game at 3-3. Once again Suárez loaded the bases issuing an intentional walk to Rafael Viñales, but avoided more damage striking out Yordanis Alarcón to end the threat. It was the only strikeout Suárez had in the game but probably the most important one.


In the seventh Matanzas put two runners on against Rodríguez and manager Pablo Civil went to the mound to talk to his pitcher. Civil didn’t remove the starter, that had already thrown 97 pitches, and the decision proved to be costly. Rodríguez retired Jefferson Delgado for the second out of the inning but with Yadir Drake on deck they decided to pitch to Arruebarrena, and the ex-Dodger launched a no-doubt homer to left field giving Matanzas a final 6-3 lead.



In the bottom of the eighth inning both teams cleared their benches and some punches were thrown after Castillo slid aggressively into second base, where Cocodrilos second baseman Aníbal Medina forced him out. When the dust settled, four key players from Las Tunas were ejected from the game: Héctor Castillo, Yuniesky Larduet, Andrés Quiala, and Alberto Civil, and two from Matanzas: Joel Suárez and Yadir Drake.



Suárez, who pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings allowing one hit, a walk and a strikeout took the win. It was his third decision of the series. Suaréz saved the important Game 3 of the series won by Matanzas 1-0 and a day later went to win Game 4. The veteran right-hander limited Las Tunas’s offense to only .147 AVG in the series while completing 10 1/3 scoreless innings of five hits, four strikeouts and a walk.


David Mena came in the ninth to close the game and the right-hander retired three of the four batters he faced for the save.


Even when this was a different season, it was a familiar ending. With the win the Cocodrilos have escorted the Leñadores out of the postseason in back-to-back seasons. Last year in rout to its first National Series title Matanzas beat Las Tunas 3-1 in the semifinals.


Highlights



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: Ltu 3, Mtz 6


Matanzas won the best-of-seven series 4-2

(Top photo of Team Matanzas: Oscar Alfonso/Photo of Yadir Drake: GameTime Sport)

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