It’s about 390 kilometers from Barquisimeto to the port of La Guaira. You can bet the Sharks were celebrating all the way home. After defeating arch-rival Caracas yesterday afternoon, they survived a rally by the hometown Cardenales to triumph 8-7 and win both ends of a winner-take-all doubleheader before 19,782 fanaticos. The three teams had tied for the fifth and final playoff spot in the league, thus the odd doubleheader with New Year’s hangovers still ringing in their ears.
In the first game, key offensive contributions were made by hometown boy Jose “Cafecito” Martinez, born and raised in La Guaira and son of the late Tiburones hero Carlos “Cafe” Martinez, who died in 2006 of stomach cancer, aged 41. Also knocking in a run in the 4-1 victory was 43-year-old Alex Cabrera, who broke the single-season LVBP record for homers last season, and had tied Sadaharu Oh’s record of 55 in the Japanese league in 2002.
In the second game, “Samurai” Cabrera (born on Christmas Eve, legend has it, only a few years after Christ himself) knocked in one run in the team’s six-run third inning, and added a measure of security with a trademark long bomb in the fourth to make it 8-6– his seventh home run of the season and 124th of his Venezuelan career (third on the all-time list). Seemingly, all this activity tired both sides out, and no runs were scored after the fifth inning.
There was one player older than the Samurai on the field. In his final game, ladies and gentlemen, a big round of applause for Robert (don’t call me Roberto) Perez, El Hombre Historia (History Man) who played 26 seasons for Lara, his 1,246 games second only to legendary Vitico Davalillo. Perez also played professionally in Mexico, Japan, Korea and Italy.
Another outstanding player who won’t see the post-season is Paulo Orlando. The Brazilian centerfielder played all 64 games for Lara, reaching base in 56 and batting .319.
La Guaira gets a day off before disputing the round-robin round against Zulia on Sunday, in Caracas. The Round of Five begins today with Magallanes visiting first-place Anzoategui, and the Aguilas of Zulia flying into Maracay to try to tame the Tigres.
In the words of the great Ernie Banks, let’s play two.