Erly Casanova was stellar in the Baseball Champions League opener for Cuba’s Alazanes de Granma, throwing seven innings and allowing a single run. (Photo Courtesy of WBSC)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
MERIDA, Mexico – There are no secrets in baseball, they say.
You can’t hide your talent. Scouts will find you. The opposition will study you. They know what you throw, what you hit and what you don’t.
Except, perhaps, when a team from North Dakota plays a team from Cuba.
“We can only scout the Cuban team so much. There’s a little bit of video of their pitcher so you can see some of that,” said Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks manager Chris Coste, whose team was the first U.S. professional team to play a team from Cuba’s Serie Nacional in the first-ever Baseball Champions League opener Thursday. “Preparation for our opponent is maybe a little bit less today than it would be during the season when you know your opponent so well. We had to pretty much go on just a little bit of video we saw on their pitcher.”
Never before had a U.S. professional team played a team from Cuba’s Serie Nacional, and it was an even match, if sparsely attended.
And while the RedHawks didn’t know much about their opponents save for a little video on starting pitcher Erly Casanova, they were able to hang in a pitchers’ duel until the eighth, when the Alazanes de Granma broke the game open, scoring two runs to grab a 3-1 victory in the first game of the Baseball Champions League at Parque Kukulkan Alamo.
Casanova was effective, inducing weak contact on the ground and mixing a lethal changeup with a fastball in the low 90s.
“He’s really crafty. I mean, he’s 38 years old, he’s got a ton of experience, doesn’t give up a lot of hard contact in a ballpark like this,” Coste said of Casanova. “Especially with that change up, he can get swing and misses also. He’s really good. You can see he’s really polished and just doesn’t give up a lot of hard contact. That’s one of the big reasons why they were able to keep us down for six, seven innings.”
Granma got on the board in the bottom of the fourth When Yordanys Samon scored on a single by Yordany Alvarez to left field, racing home from second after RedHawks left fielder Conor Panas misplayed the ball.
The RedHawks answered back in top of the sixth when Roy Morales hit the first home run of the Baseball Champions League, launching a 2-1 pitch from Casanova over the left field wall to tie the game.
“I was just looking for a pitch that I could hit it hard, and he just hung me a change-up down the middle,” Morales said. “I was looking, I thought it was going to be a double to the line, but the ball just kept flying and it went out.”
That was the only blemish for Casanova, who went seven innings, allowing four hits, one run, and one walk while striking out five.
“He was locating really good the fastball, making good pitches, he was getting ahead on the count, that’s why he was really good today,” Morales said of Casanova.
Granma scored the go-ahead run in the top of the eight when Yosvany Alarcon singled to deep left, sending Raico Santos around from first. They’d add an insurance run on a sacrifice fly by Guillermo Aviles that scored Semon.
Fargo-Moorhead threatened in the top of the ninth, loading the bases on singles by Max Murphy and Manny Boscan and a one-out walk by Connor Panas.
Tomorrow, they’ll face the Leones de Yucatan, the 2022 Liga Mexicana de Beisbol champions, in the nightcap.
“The hope is our guys will be really fired up. I think they’d be fired up for tomorrow anyways with playing against the Leones in their home ballpark,” Coste said. “We’ve been looking forward to that game. And I think losing today, hopefully that gives us a little bit of that kick in the tail and the urgency because we can’t afford to lose another game.”
Notebook: Colton Davis will start Friday night for Fargo-Moorhead. Davis threw 46.0 innings for the RedHawks in nine appearances this season, going 7-0 with a 2.15 ERA. …Fargo-Moorhead didn’t receive their uniforms until late Wednesday night. The jerseys and pants traveled down to Merida with American Association Deputy Commissioner Josh Buchholz, but were held up by customs officials in Mexico City. With some help from the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol, the uniforms arrived in time for the 1 p.m. game Thursday. … World Baseball Network counted 56 scouts in the stands for the early game, nearly outnumbering the fans in attendance.