This past weekend was both US Independence Day and Venezuelan Independence Day (July 4 and July 5, respectively). Watching the evening baseball highlights on Saturday, at the intersection of the two nation’s anniversaries, we were reminded of the many criollo players who’ve come to these shores and added their star to the MLB firmament.
A star in (pin)stripes Saturday was none other than the Black Eagle, Jose Pirela, who pinch-ran for Mark Texiera in the ninth inning against Tampa and scored in a cloud of dust when Ramon Flores, late of the Tiburones of La Guaira, dropped a bunt that was bungled a bit by the defense. (Admittedly, Pirela made two errors the next day, but let’s focus on the positive.)
In Chicago, big Avisail Garcia nearly leapt over the right-field wall to rob a home run from Chris Davis of he Orioles, saving a win for the Medias Blancas. The winter-time Tigre de Aragua missed much of last season after diving for a low line drive in the outfield, so you have to admire his gumption and hustle.
In Oakland, Félix Hernández gave up only two runs to the hometown Athletics, but it was two more than struggling Seattle scored, and his record dropped to 10-5. Suddenly, what looked like his first 20-win campaign suddenly is no longer a shoo-in.
On Sunday the results of the All-Star voting were announced, and thanks to the ever-eager Kansas City supporters, a record number (we’ll try to verify that) of Venezuelans made the starting lineup, all in the American League: catcher Salvador Pérez of Valencia and the Royals; his teammate and shortstop Alcides Escobar of La Sabana; batsman extraordinaire Miguel Cabrera of Detroit; and second baseman Jose Altuve of Maracay–like Cabrera–and Houston.
In Los Angeles, the Mets continue to give Wilmer Flores of Valencia a chance to play, and did he ever: 10 hits in 3 games against the first-place Dodgers as the Metropolitans came within one ninth-inning rally of sweeping the Boys in Blue. Wilmer has the sweetest, most compact swing you’ll see, and has moved to second base on defense to put less pressure on his fielding. Alex Torres, the lefty reliever from Wilmer’s home town, (who wears the biggest hat in baseball to protect his head from line drives), made a wonderful behind-the-back grab of a scorching grounder, although he couldn’t save Saturday’s game for the Gothamites.
In addition to the four AL starters, two VZ pitchers were named to the All-Star rotations, one for each league: unsurprisingly, King Felix for the American–his ten wins still lead MLB–and the ageless Francisco Rodriguez in the NL, having a great season for the un-great Brewers. While A-Rod continues his improbable resurrection in the Bronx this year, K-Rod is on a two-year upswing in Milwaukee, after a bitter Flushing ending with the Mets. Disappointingly, Carlos Carrasco, who also has 10 wins and some amazing starts this year for the Injuns, didn’t make the All-Star cut.