Cuban Playoff Baseball – Throwback to a Bygone Yera

Yoennis Yera w Matanzas Cocodrilos via Phil Selig

I feel like my camera has been stalking Matanzas Cocodrilos pitcher Yoennis Yera. My Camera has captured the hurler in action multiple times. I have seen him throw for team Cuba. Pitching in important playoff baseball games with Matanzas and during his stint with the Kitchener Panthers in Canada. A trend or at least a theory of mine is that there is no incorrect way to spell Cuban names. I have seen him listed as Yoennis, Yoenis, Yoany, Yoanni + Yoan. The most popular pronunciation seems to be Yo-en-ee and most commonly the spelling of Yoennis.

My passion for Cuban baseball is by no means rooted in any disdain for MLB or other pro leagues. Because the Cuban National Series is not comparable to MLB it can be tough to rank performance in the league. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have world class athletes and isn’t a wonderful baseball product in its own right. The defection of talent from the island has had a massive impact on the quality of the league. Perhaps this is most evident on the pitching mound.

The 2020 season was definitely one for the offences of the 16 squads. Only two teams had a collective era under 4.00. Eleven pitching staffs gave up five or more earned runs per game. This resulted in an uneven regular season with daily blow outs being the norm.

Yoennis Yera w Cuban National Team via Phil Selig

Yet there was a beautiful aspect. Especially for fans of Old Style baseball. The contingent who feel the current MLB product has watered down or squandered the value of starting pitching. Because of this veteran hurlers, many well over the age of thirty are the biggest pitching commodity in Cuba today. As a result the teams anchored by this type of pitcher are playing playoff baseball. This brings us back to Yoennis Yera the Ace for the defending Champion Matanzas Cocodrilos.

The 31 year old lefty split his season between Mexico and Matanzas. He only made seven starts in Cuba. In those Seven starts he was dynamite at 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA and especially by CNS standard a terrific 32-10 K-BB ratio. He returned to Cuba and toed the rubber for GM 1 of the playoffs vs Cienfuegos. The Elefantes possess one of the best offences in the league with more young upside than most. Yera getting the win in game 1 was very important for Matanzas.

How he got there might be more important and is truly a throwback to a bygone era or highlights the difference in managing style in Cuba vs MLB. Yera was behind 1-0 after the first as his defence did him few favours as evidenced by the 4 unearned runs charged to him. Cienfuegos pitching which many consider to be their Achilles, heel looked like they would be the story of the game early on. On the other side of the diamond 31 year old righty for the Elefantes, Yasmany Insua was on and kept the dangerous Cocodrilos lineup shutout into the 4th inning.

Yoennis Yera w Kitchener via Phil Selig

Cienfuegos would expand their lead to 4-0 again thanks to some shoddy Matanzas glove work. This is the point where in many other leagues a quick call to the bullpen usually occurs especially in playoff baseball. Instead Yera was allowed to work his way through trouble. This harkens back to an often forgotten axiom. That it isn’t always how many runs you give up but sometimes when you give them up. Matanzas would finally put a dent in home plate bringing the score to 4-2, but Cienfuegos would charge back and expand the lead to 6-2.

This would represent another opportunity to go with the hook and bring in some relief, however the faith in Yera paid off as Cienfuegos wouldn’t touch home plate again after the 5th inning and Yera would actually get stronger in going 7 innings complete putting up a line of 7 IP 8 H 6 R 2ER 1 BB 8 K. Watching the game live via YouTube at least to me it felt like the momentum in the game was shifting, specifically Cienfuegos youngster Luis Mateo led off the 5th getting thrown at third trying to stretch a double, the next batter Yusniel Ibanez would hit a solo home run which was the last run scored for the Elefantes.

Much credit must also go to the Matanzas batters who battled all game and eventually eliminated the multi-run deficit highlighted by a big three run home run by former Dodgers farmhand and former Cienfuegos Short Stop Erisbel Arruebarrena which knotted the score at 6-6. After a bit of a disjointed regular season Cuban playoff baseball so far has been very competitive. Speaking as a veteran baseball fan who grew up in the era of Jack Morris or similar starters grinding out big performances on guile and experience. Seeing Yoennis Yera get the chance to work through early trouble and a big deficit to go seven innings and ultimately pick up the win felt like a Throwback to a Bygone Yera, sorry era.

Phil Selig

I am Phil. I write things