For all intents and purposes, there are two teams in the hunt for the Serie Caribe in Venezuela: the Caribes themselves (appropriate, no?) and the all-powerful Magallanes. Both teams are 8-3 after 11 second-round games; with five games remaining and no other team having more than four wins, it’s basically over. Then, then must play each other in a best-of-seven series commencing January 22. Yes, I’ve read the league’s rulebook.
Of course the big news this week was Tuesday’s return of Magallanero Supremo Johan “El Gocho” Santana, previewed in this blog on Monday. Johan’s return was a bit odd–the game in Valencia, anticipated by 13,000+ fans and 11 MLB scouts, was delayed by three hours because of rain. When the big lefty finally took the mound late in the evening, he pitched two complete innings, retiring all six hitters. His fastball peaked between 88 and 90 mph, his slider between 82-84.
This was Johan’s first LVBP appearance in 13 years, and it affected the 35-year-old veteran, who said it had been a long time since he felt this way, but he had “butterflies in his stomach.” It had been eight months since he tore his Achilles tendon while preparing to join the Baltimore Orioles.
Ironically, the first out came on a hard grounder that bounced off Santana’s previously injured left leg. But he was OK and retired five of Aragua’s Major Leaguers in a row: Yangervis Solarte, Eduardo Escobar, Ramon Flores, Josmil Pinto, Avisail Garcia, and then, Jose G. Martinez (not Jose “Cafecito” Martinez).
The big man from Tovar threw a total of 17 pitches and will take the mound again Sunday against the Aguilas of Zulia; he expects to throw 55-70 pitches then. (He had to warm up more than once on Tuesday, limiting his pitch count in the actual game.)
Similar to Panamanian pitching legend Mariano Rivera, Santana doesn’t want an injury to take him out of baseball. (Rivera tore a knee ligament and sat out most of the 2012 season before finishing on a high note in 2013 with the Yankees.) “He wants to leave the game on his own terms,” said his agent Peter Greenberg. “He told me, ‘I want to add to my legacy.'”
On Tuesday in Valencia, he did just that. !Vive El Gocho!