Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gallos Estan Finito

And so comes an end to an amazing streak of 25 consecutive victories for the Gallos of Sancti Spiritus. The fateful game took place several days ago at Stadio Latinoamericano, but access to the Federation of Cuban Baseball's website was not possible for some reason and I only confirmed the news today. For two days I searched the internet for an alternative source, finding my efforts frustrated at each turn. The Sancti Spiritus online newspaper "Escambray" featured a blurb about the defeat, but offered nothing in the way of details. Actually, I hoped that my Spanish was simply insufficient for the headline and that the streak was somehow still alive, but it was not.

After a day off, the Gallos began their series against Industriales, the team that they had recently skyrocketed past into first place in Group B. This rivalry has a long and vibrant history and amounts to our own battle with the Red Sox. It was fate that the two teams would meet with only days remaining in the season, Sancti Spiritus looking to make history. Perhaps it was also only fitting that Industriales was the club to deny the Gallos an opportunity to tie the all time record of 26 consecutive victories and certainly they did not want to be the victims of a record breaking 27th.

Industriales is a strong team that led Group B for most of the 45th National Season. Overcome by the streaking Gallos, they have settled for what amounts to the Wild Card in the Cuban West. They feature WBC Cuban National Ace Yadel Marti and top shelf slugger Yoandry Urgelles, among other outstanding players. It was the combination of these two heroes that proved too much for Sancti Spritus in the end.

Marti is a great talent. He dominated the WBC, and paired with Cuba's top pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo of Pinar del Rio for the semi-final victory over the star-studded Dominican lineup. Marti posted an impressive line against Sancti Spriritus in the overwhelming 11-1 victory, throwing 7 innings of 2 hit ball, with no walks and 7 strikeouts. The only run came off the bat of Yulieski Gourriel, hammering his league leading 24th home run on the year in the top of the 4th inning. The game was called after the visitor's 7th inning, rather unceremoniously by mercy rule. I would have liked to have seen the Gallos get their final 2 innings to keep the dream alive, but rules are rules.

In the days since the streak was broken, the series has continued with the season waning and the playoffs just on the horizon. The teams split the following contests, with Sancti Spiritus claiming victory 8-3 on Reinier Yero's 5 RBI night in Game 2 before falling again to their rivals 9-8 after mounting a furious 4 run 9th inning rally that came up one short of tying the score. Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to see some fireworks from these clubs again in the games that really count.

A note on Yulieski Gourriel. The young man is a run away favorite for MVP, and became the first player in the history of Federation Baseball to 20 or more home runs(24) and steal 20 or more bases(21). Keep in mind that his 20-20 season was accomplished in 86 games, amounting to little more than half of a Major League season. He broke the record for extra base hits in a season (50 and counting) and sits second in RBIs on the year(82) while batting .321. What will he do for an encore?