2019 60+ Wood Bat

Puerto Rico A’s 6, Long Island Yankees 2

‘Puerto Rico on ‘Cruz Control’ on the Bump’

By Nick Shulman, special to MSBL

After dominant performances throughout the Fall Baseball Classic, we saw a clash of two powerhouse teams when the Long Island Yankees faced off against the Puerto Rico A’s in the 60+ Championship game on Saturday afternoon. Both teams put their best foot forward and rolled out their ace starting pitchers. Ken Burnett took the mound for Long Island and Jose Cruz dealt for Puerto Rico.

The left-handed Cruz got the ball first and showcased his tough-to-hit curveball from the beginning. Long Island was able to hit him intermittently, but never got enough going to muster up any runs early on. Burnett got off to a nice start for Long Island as well, as he pitched with an unconventional, sidearm delivery, keeping Puerto Rico’s hitters off-balance.

The first three innings were a true pitcher’s duel, with neither offense getting more than a single or walk here and there. Puerto Rico showed they were highly prioritizing active baserunning and were more than willing to steal bases to get runners in scoring position. They eventually were able to reap what they sowed, as their baserunning became the determining factor in the outcome of the game.

Burnett began showing signs of fatigue in the fourth inning when he began missing the plate a little more often and walking a few players. This is when Puerto Rico struck first when Virgilio Perez was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to drive in their first run. Andres Burgos also contributed for the A’s with a two-out RBI single.

Burnett was eventually asked to leave the mound after hitting his fourth batter and the Yankees relief pitcher righted the ship temporarily after the fourth inning, showing a lot of grit. He stifled the active Puerto Rico offense in the fifth and sixth inning but the Yankees weren’t able to close the gap, as Jose Cruz continued to rely on his curveball to create a lot of ground balls for his skilled infield to handle.

Innings five and six were all defense, with both pitchers hitting their spots with a few web gems to keep the fans entertained. Puerto Rico pounced again in the bottom of the seventh inning with an RBI single from Enrique Ayala. Thanks to heads-up baserunning, Angel Olmos was able to score comfortably from third base.

The eighth inning was the determining factor of the game. It was a three-run game going into the eighth and Puerto Rico’s defense got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top half of the inning. In the bottom half of the inning each of the first two base runners stole second and Puerto Rico’s fourth run was scored via a bunt single from Josue. Virgilio Perez contributed with another RBI single, and Jose Vidal showed his pop with an RBI double to make the score 6-0 through eight innings. Puerto Rico finished with an astonishing ten stolen bases on the day.

The Yankees were not going to go out quietly, however. They gave Puerto Rico a bit of a scare in the top of the ninth inning when they got another rally going. Bernie Eller led off the inning with a double and was driven in with another double from Bruce G. Starting pitcher Burnett showed off his bat with an RBI single to bring Bruce home to make it 6-2. You could tell Puerto Rico’s fans were beginning to stress, but Cruz was eventually able to right the ship and get out of the gym by going back to his curveball, and creating a ground ball for the final out.

The Puerto Rico A’s are no strangers to championship banners, and some players on the roster have now accumulated four Fall Classic titles. The teams shared a few “bigger than baseball” moments after the game, reflecting on how they’ve all been playing this game for the vast majority of their lives. There was one underlying theme, and that was how grateful they were to be playing a kids game into their 60’s. There was no shortage of passion and joy for the game, and that’s a win for everybody.