Game 7. When you heard those words, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Heroes? Goats? Pitchers pitching out of their minds? Pitchers completely falling apart? Well, one thing is for sure- when you picture a Game 7, you don’t picture a game anything like the one Magallanes and Lara played on Wednesday night to determine the Venezuelan Winter League champion and who would advance to the Caribbean Series.
Venezuelan League Championship Series: Navegantes del Magallanes 11, Cardenales de Lara 9
Once again for Lara, the game got off to a very promising start as Luis Jimenez slammed a solo homer off Magallanes starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx in the top of the first inning. But everything quickly collapsed there. The three innings consisted of the Navegantes absolutely bombarding Lara pitching. Lara starter Raul Rivero lasted just 1.1 innings allowing 4 runs on a solo homer by Endy Chavez and a 3-run shot by Carlos Maldonado. Juan Rivera then homered off Yohan Pino, a 2-run shot as Magallanes opened up a 7-2 lead. But you have to give the Cardenales credit for refusing to give up. They battled back for 3 runs in the 4th on RBI singles by Paulo Orlando (a bunt single in an RBI situation!) and Cesar Izturis, and an RBI double by Yangervis Solarte. But the onslaught continued in the bottom of the frame as Pablo Sandoval slammed a 2-run homer and Hector Gimenez followed two batters later with a solo shot to make it 10-5, and an RBI double by Maldonado in the 5th made it 11-5.
While the Lara pitching was a disaster, the Magallanes pitching was not that much better. Austin Bibens-Dirkx did not have the type of Game 7 start that he would have liked, allowing 5 runs on 7 hits in 3 innings. Deolis Guerra then followed 2 shutout innings. But then suddenly everything changed. The Lara bullpen turned itself around, tossing shutout ball in the last 3 innings, including 1.1 scoreless frames by ex-big leaguer and Rays minor leaguer Romulo Sanchez. And the Navegantes’ bullpen began to wilt. A 2-run homer by Luis Jimenez, his second of the game, off of Fabio Castro made it an 11-7 game. Yoel Hernandez managed to work around a hit to toss scoreless ball the rest of the 6th, and then ex-Rays minor leaguer Jean Machi slammed the door for 1.2 innings, tossing perfect ball with 3 strikeouts. Machi was the only pitcher in the game who could truly say he had a great game. The game was 11-7 entering the 9th with Enrique Gonzalez on the mound. But Gonzalez walked Luis Valbuena to begin his outing before Oswaldo Navarro drilled a 2-run home run to make it 11-9. The Cardenales were a bloop and a blast away from an unbelievable comeback. Roberto Perez followed with a bloop- but Elvis Andrus was able to make the catch. And then even in a game ruled by hitting, pitching reigned supreme at the end, with Gonzalez striking out Tomas Perez and Paulo Orlando to end the game as Magallanes won 11-9. Machi earned the win despite not being the pitcher of record in the game because everyone else was so bad, and Rivero took the loss. Magallanes came back from a 3-2 deficit to win the final two games of the series, and although it was ugly at the end, they came through when it mattered most and will move on to the Caribbean Series.