1872: La Paliza

In these first few years of the Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña, Opening Day was Opening Day.

There were no winter and fall leagues for prospects to show off. No spring training for more than a month, to knock off the rust. No rehabilitation assignments, no minor leagues, and while the stove was not exactly cold, it never got above tepid.

All of which might go some way towards explaining why one particular game on April 1st, 1872 lived in infamy for decades of posterity, even after every player and manager on the field for it had long since retired.

They called it la paliza (“the beating”), and really, no one game in the 1870s was more indicative of how the rest of the decade would go—certainly not for the two teams that opened their season with it.

Let’s meet them.

the teams

 

 The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.
Arroyo
The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.
Juncos
divisionLB SuresteLB El Yunque
place2nd3rd
record16-2215-23
runs scored291289
slash line.268 / .290 / .342.262 / .287 / .365
2B / 3B / HR63 / 20 / 374 / 31 / 6
walks / strikeouts32 / 2036 / 23
stolen bases3722
runs allowed300323
hits allowed419437
strikeouts / walks31 / 2533 / 29
opp. average.277.282
ERA3.673.44
WHIP1.341.42
BABIP.278.283

On the batting charts for 1871, Arroyo and Juncos are literally next to each other. They played a little differently—the Bucas liked to play by singles and stolen bases, the Vales by doubles and triples—but both were decidedly middle-of-the-pack teams, offensively speaking.

The 1870s certainly had their share of dynamic hitters, but if offense had been the key to success in that decade, the Chupacabras and their stacked lineup would’ve won multiple pennants instead of, well, none.

In those days, every team, no matter how puissant their bats were, sorely needed competent pitchers.

the pitchers

When the league’s Charter Committee limited rosters to fifteen players in 1871, they intended teams to carry a single official starting pitcher who would open each game, until and unless he was so exhausted that other players had to be called in.

On the one hand, the 1871 season was only thirty-eight games.

On the other hand, that’s still thirty-eight starts—five more than even the most reliable workhorses manage in the modern era, and they get to do it with four rest days or more between starts. The 1871 season didn’t even have breaks between most games.

Obviously, no pitcher came close. Cabo Rojo’s Alberto Jauregui and Corozal’s Rafael Flores led their leagues by starting 23 and 24 games, respectively, and neither of them was especially good that year, probably because they were constantly pitching on short rest. Most teams carried one or two “reserve” pitchers, who threw batting practice but could be called upon for relief outings and emergency starts.

 A reconstructed portrait of Víctor Bustamante in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.
Víctor
Bustamante
A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.
Ángel
de la Torre
age3331
starts2113
wins / losses11-106-6
ERA2.93
(118 ERA+)
1.89
(189 ERA+)
FIP3.093.11
WHIP1.281.27
OAVG.274.259
WAR3.62.3

When every team turned a decent profit, and—more importantly—no one died in the hastily-constructed stadia all over Puerto Rico, the LNP doubled the schedule for 1872.

Unsurprisingly, pitchers across the league revolted—seventy-six starts, which would be twice as impossible, would only strain their arms to the point of amputation. In response, the Commissioner expanded rosters by one spot, which gave teams the space to carry a second official pitcher rather than using the “reserve” workaround.

Like most other teams, Arroyo and Juncos had already hired backups that could be slotted into the starting role.

For 1872, the Bucaneros stuck by Bustamante, a workhorse starter whom they hoped could anchor the rotation for years to come.

The Vales, knowing they would need more than the decent pitching they’d gotten out of Julio Alvarado—one of the early league’s most popular players, probably because he was a hero of the Revolution—handed the ball to a man they’d already seen work plenty in the first year.

They hoped he’d help turn things around.

 

the game

Remarkably, given the paucity of information about this era of LNP baseball, we know that Juncos fell short of selling out Opening Day by just 35 tickets.

It was a Monday morning—according to the almanaquero‘s records, the game started shortly after 11:00 AM—and the rainy season had wasted no time in making its presence known, but in those days, Juncos fans were quite loyal, and the clouds over the stadium provided plenty of cool shade.

1st inning

In 1872, Ángel de la Torre’s hometown of Cataño was a small clump of barrios on the western side of San Juan Bay. Officially, the neighborhood was part of the much larger and more powerful town of Bayamón, but through a few carefully-pulled strings—and a pointed reminder of their wartime service—they have their own LNP team.

De la Torre had hoped the Guardas would take him, but as he went out to the mound, he knew the Valencianos were trusting him to be their ace in their second season.

It made sense. He liked Alvarado, even if he told too many war stories, but he’d put up much better numbers, if in fewer games. He was younger, faster, and hungrier.

He was ready.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

pitcher: Ángel de la Torre.
• batter: RF Juan Soriano.
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 2.

Soriano flies out to center field. 1 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Juan Soriano in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

pitcher: Ángel de la Torre.
• batter: 3B Ángel Velasco.
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 6.

Velasco flies out to left field. 2 out.

Since there is no extant portrait of Ángel Velasco, this picture shows the entirely hidden face of a mystery player.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

pitcher: Ángel de la Torre.
• batter: SS Sergio Martínez.
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 10.

Martínez flies out to left field. 3 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Sergio Martínez in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.000
The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.000

 

When de la Torre returns to the bench, he’s engulfed in hugs and handshakes. It may only be three outs—but you only get to pitch a clean first frame on Opening Day once a year.

“Put some runs on them,” de la Torre says to infielder Daniel Barba, whose major distinguishing characteristic in 1871 was missing exactly one game.

Barba is an odd candidate for this remark. A .607 OPS would not be ideal at any point in the decade, but to put it up in 1871 was particularly dire.

It doesn’t matter. Barba is de la Torre’s friend, and he knows how much is riding on this game. He won’t fail him. 

A reconstructed portrait of Víctor Bustamante in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

pitcher: Víctor Bustamante.
• batter: 1B David Nieves.
final count: 1-1.
• pitch count: 3.

Nieves triples to center-right.

A reconstructed portrait of David Nieves in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

A reconstructed portrait of Víctor Bustamante in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

pitcher: Víctor Bustamante.
• batter: 2B Jorge Vázquez.
count: 1-1.
• pitch count: 6.

Passed ball. Nieves scores.

A reconstructed portrait of Jesús Vázquez in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

Passed balls were an unfortunately common source of runs for teams in the early league era, especially because catchers at the time considered wearing protective equipment a greater admission of cowardice than letting an inaccurately-thrown ball skip all the way to the backstop. 

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.000
The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.

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A reconstructed portrait of Víctor Bustamante in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

pitcher: Víctor Bustamante.
• batter: 2B Jorge Vázquez.
final count: 2-1.
• pitch count: 7.

Vázquez flies out to center field. 1 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Jesús Vázquez in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

A reconstructed portrait of Víctor Bustamante in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

pitcher: Víctor Bustamante.
• batter: RF Jorge de Anda.
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 11.

De Anda grounds out to short. 2 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Jorge de Anda in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

A reconstructed portrait of Víctor Bustamante in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

pitcher: Víctor Bustamante.
• batter: SS Édgar Gallardo.
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 13.

Gallardo singles to left field. 2 out.

Since there is no extant portrait of Édgar Gallardo, this picture shows the entirely hidden face of a mystery player.

A reconstructed portrait of Víctor Bustamante in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

pitcher: Víctor Bustamante.
• batter: CF Miguel Velázquez.
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 17.

Velázquez reaches on error (3B). 2 out. Gallardo to 2nd.

A reconstructed portrait of Miguel Velázquez in home whites, shown with the black cap of a free agent that he would've been wearing in 1875.

The first thing modern baseball fans would notice about the early LNP days, in all probability, would be the truly atrocious fielding.

A bad fielder in the modern era would put up a fielding percentage of about .940. There are years when that kind of consistency would’ve led the league at certain positions. 

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.00

1

The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.110

A reconstructed portrait of Víctor Bustamante in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

pitcher: Víctor Bustamante.
• batter: 3B Daniel Barba.
final count: 2-1.
• pitch count: 21.

Barba singles between second and short. Gallardo scores. 2 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Daniel Barba in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

A reconstructed portrait of Víctor Bustamante in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

pitcher: Víctor Bustamante.
• batter: LF Hugo Rodríguez.
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 25.

Rodríguez grounds out to the pitcher. 3 out.

Since there is no extant portrait of Hugo Rodríguez, this picture shows the entirely hidden face of a mystery player.

In 1872, giving up two runs on three hits in the very first inning of the season was painful.

Bustamante, visibly shaken as he returns to the bench, put his head in his hands, likely wondering what he would face in the next inning.

From the next bench, first baseman Enrique Sosa watched his pitcher crumble. Unlike most of his teammates, he practices in the offseason, despite not being paid for it. He loves playing baseball more than he did playing soldier.

He won’t let this team waltz all over his Bucas. 

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.001
The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.

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2nd inning

De la Torre walked out to the mound with renewed confidence. A two-run lead has never been insurmountable in baseball, but it was usually a good indication of a team willing to take the fight to their opponents. All he had to do was hold it.

At first, as he watched Ávila whiff a bunt at his first pitch, he wondered if the Bucas were trying to help him.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

pitcher: Ángel de la Torre.
• batter: Javier Ávila (LF).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 16.

Ávila flies out to right field. 1 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Javier Ávila in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.001
The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.230

As he watched de Anda make the basket catch, de la Torre realized he cannot spend six pitches on every batter.

He called his catcher over, talked things over with him, and geared up. 

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

pitcher: Ángel de la Torre.
• batter: Enrique Sosa (1B).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 18.

Sosa singles to short. 1 out.

Since there is no extant portrait of Enrique Sosa, this picture shows the entirely hidden face of a mystery player.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

pitcher: Ángel de la Torre.
• batter: Mario Oceguera (2B).
final count: 1-0.
• pitch count: 20.

Oceguera singles to left-center. 1 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Mario Oceguera in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

pitcher: Ángel de la Torre.
• batter: Félix de los Santos (C).
final count: 2-2.
• pitch count: 25.

De los Santos singles to left field. Sosa scores.
1 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Félix de los Santos in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.

1

3

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The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.230

With the lead cut in half, de la Torre called Huerta back to the mound, pitching “coach” Miguel Pardo in tow.

Neither one of them have noticed anything wrong with what he’s throwing tonight. Pardo, in particular, tells de la Torre to just keep the ball low and hope for the best.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

pitcher: Ángel de la Torre.
• batter: Ramón Esparza (CF).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 27.

Esparza hit by pitch. Gallardo to 3rd. De Los Santos to 2nd. 1 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Ramón Esparza in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

pitcher: Ángel de la Torre.
• batter: Víctor Bustamante (P).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 29.

Bustamante singles to left field. Gallardo scores. De los Santos scores. 1 out.

A reconstructed portrait of Ramón Esparza in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.

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The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.23

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Unfortunately for de la Torre, perhaps taking advice on pitching from a man who spent the last three years leading mules around the Cordillera Central was not a winning strategy.

By now you’ve met the entire Bucaneros lineup, so we’ll speed things up a bit.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

• batter: RF Soriano (0-1).
final count: 2-1.
• pitch count: 33.

Soriano reaches on error (2B). Esparza to 3rd. Bustamante to 2nd. 1 out.

• batter: 3B Velasco (0-1).
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 37.

Velasco reaches on error (SS). Esparza scores. Bustamante to 3rd. Soriano to 2nd. 1 out.

• batter: SS Martínez (0-1).
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 41.

Martínez reaches 2nd on error (RF). Bustamante scores. Soriano scores. Velasco to 3rd. 1 out.

• batter: LF Ávila (0-1).
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 45.

Ávila grounds out to short. Velasco scores.
Martínez to 3rd. 2 out.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.

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The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.23

3

However you define the technical feat of batting aroundthe Bucaneros had just achieved it, on Opening Day, against a pitcher who was supposed to be the future of his team.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

• batter: 1B Sosa (1-1).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 46.

Sosa singles, reaches 2nd on error (SS). Martínez scores. 2 out.

• batter: 2B Oceguera (1-1).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 47.

Oceguera flies out to left field. 3 out.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.

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The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.23

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This time, when de la Torre took the bench again, he was fairly certain his teammates weren’t looking at him—though he could not be sure whether that was out of embarrassment or anger.

Sure, they had made mistakes, but runs on errors were baked into 1872 baseball. And not only had he given up the go-ahead run, and fairly, but done so to his opposite number. He had even hit a player for good measure.

Even his arm would have seemed embarrassed to be attached to him.

Ironically, in the bottom of the inning, de la Torre is the only Valenciano to reach base—and he does so via error.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.85

2

The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.234

3rd inning

In his gut, Leo Hernández had to know de la Torre was done.

Not because of the lopsided score—in 1872, a six-run lead was nowhere near insurmountable—but if there was any life left in a pitcher’s eyes after letting the opposing order bat around, there was something wrong with the man.

If Hernández was anything, though, he was conventional, and a conventional man stuck with his pitcher, for good or for ill. He gave de la Torre the go-ahead.

A reconstructed portrait of Ángel de la Torre in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

• batter: C de los Santos (1-1).
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 51.

De los Santos grounds out to short. 1 out.

• batter: CF Esparza (0-0).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 57.

Esparza doubles to center-right. 1 out.

• batter: P Bustamante (1-1).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 58.

Bustamante reaches on error (1B). Esparza to 3rd.
1 out.

• batter: RF Soriano (1-2).
final count: 2-1.
• pitch count: 62.

Soriano singles between short and third. Esparza scores. 1 out.

• batter: 3B Velasco (0-2).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 64.

Velasco doubles on a line drive to left field. Bustamante scores. Soriano scores. 1 out.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.

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The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.23

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Eleven pitches later, the Bucaneros had taken the decision out of Hernández’s hands. No one could’ve blamed him for putting in a new arm, not at this point.

Ángel de la Torre: 2.1 IP, 8 hits, 12 runs* / 5 earned runs, 0 walks, 0 strikeouts, 1 hit batsman, 67** pitches. 19.29 ERA.

* De la Torre was responsible for Velasco being on base. Yes, he later scored.
** Pitch count includes three foul balls otherwise unrecorded.

A reconstructed portrait of Roberto Castillo. He is wearing a blank uniform and black cap, which suggests that he was not on any team at the time of the portrait.

• pitcher: Roberto Castillo.
• batter:
SS Martínez (0-2).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 6.

Martínez walks. Velasco to 2nd. 1 out.

• batter: LF Ávila (0-2).
final count: 1-0.
• pitch count: 8.

Ávila reaches on fielder’s choice to short. Martínez out at 2nd. Velasco to 3rd. 2 out.

• batter: 1B Sosa (2-2).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 9.

Sosa singles to left-center. Velasco scores. Ávila to 3rd. 2 out.

• batter: 2B Oceguera (1-2).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 15.

Oceguera singles sharply to short. Ávila scores. Sosa to 2nd. 2 out.

• batter: C de los Santos (1-2).
final count: 1-0.
• pitch count: 17.

De los Santos flies out to left field. 3 out.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.

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The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.235

You’ve probably figured out that we stopped showing you the Valencianos’ at-bats once they stopped mattering to the final result of the game, which is usually the case once the other team has batted around twice in two innings.

This time, we hardly need to describe them—but when Miguel Velázquez’s line drive was caught in foul territory, he apparently took his bat to one of the spare benches on the Juncos side. 

The bat lasted five swings before breaking, and luckily, the almanaquero notes, no one received splinters.

4th inning

The first inning had to feel like a century ago. The Estadio de Juncos was on the smaller side of the LNP’s extremely restrictive field policies, but when it was full, it could be as loud as any of its brethren.

By now, however, it would’ve been very quiet—and relatively empty, despite the cheap beer and fritanga available.

That might have been for the best.

A reconstructed portrait of Roberto Castillo. He is wearing a blank uniform and black cap, which suggests that he was not on any team at the time of the portrait.

• pitcher: Roberto Castillo.
• batter:
CF Esparza (1-1).
final count: 2-2.
• pitch count: 22.

Esparza singles to center-right.

• batter: P Bustamante (1-2).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 24.

Bustamante sacrifices to the pitcher. Esparza to 2nd.
1 out.

• batter: RF Soriano (1-3).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 25.

Soriano singles to left-center, reaches 2nd on error (LF). Esparza scores. 1 out.

• batter: 3B Velasco (1-3).
final count: 3-1.
• pitch count: 30.

Velasco singles to short. Soriano scores. 1 out.

• batter: SS Martínez (0-2).
final count: 2-0.
• pitch count: 33.

Martínez doubles to deep center field. Velasco scores. 1 out.

• batter: LF Ávila (0-3).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 34.

Ávila flies out to center. 2 out.

• batter: 1B Sosa (3-3).
final count: 2-0.
• pitch count: 37.

Sosa doubles to deep left-center. Martínez scores.
2 out.

• batter: 2B Oceguera (2-3).
final count: 2-2.
• pitch count: 42.

Oceguera hit by pitch. 2 out.

• batter: C de los Santos (1-3).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 48.

De los Santos reaches on error (SS). Sosa to 3rd. Oceguera to 2nd. 2 out.

• batter: CF Esparza (2-2).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 50.

Esparza singles on a ground ball to the pitcher. Sosa scores. Oceguera to 3rd. De los Santos to 2nd. 2 out.

• batter: P Bustamante (1-2).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 52.

Bustamante pops out to right field. 3 out.

 RHE
The logo of the Bucaneros de Arroyo: a navy "A" in fancy font, bordered in gold and brown, on top of a light blue circle studded with brown, bordered in brown-white-brown.

18

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The logo of the Valencianos de Juncos: a brown "J" in flowery cursive on an orange circle, bordered in brown.23

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After Castillo finally forced Bustamante to pop up, having already hit another batter and allowed the Bucaneros a third bat-around, he joined de la Torre on the bench, avoiding the indentation from Velázquez’s bat. Neither of them spoke, but after some time, de la Torre put a friendly arm around his fellow broken man’s back.

Roberto Castillo: 1.2 IP, 8 hits, 6 runs / 4 earned runs, 1 walks, 0 strikeouts, 1 hit batsman, 55* pitches. 21.60 ERA.

* Pitch count includes three foul balls otherwise unrecorded.

All three Valencianos went down on ground balls, denying Hernández the chance to pinch-hit for his second broken pitcher. Nothing would cooperate with him.

Not even the skies, in fact; a few minatory droplets began to fall during Hugo Rodríguez’s time at the plate.

5th inning

Hernández, as if compensating for pulling his pitcher too late, yanked Castillo before the inning had begun. As with all the decisions he made for the Valencianos, it was not a strange decision. Relievers in 1872 took only occasional practice, barely warmed up, and it was rare to find someone who pitched enough innings in relief to prove himself capable, rather than a fluke.

Even by these standards, however, his next decision would prove baffling.

The man that trotted out to the mound would have been unrecognizable even to most Valencianos fans. He had appeared in seven games before, and had started none of them.

His name is José Benítez. He was, and would retire, a first baseman.

As there's no current picture of José Benítez, the picture is of an entirely hidden face, a "mystery player."

• pitcher: José Benítez.
• batter:
RF Soriano (2-4).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 1.

Soriano singles to third.

• batter: 3B Velasco (2-4).
count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 2.

Soriano steals 2nd.

• batter: 3B Velasco (2-4).
final count: 1-1.
• pitch count: 5.

Velasco grounds out to third. Soriano scores. 1 out.

• batter: SS Martínez (1-3).
final count: 3-1.
• pitch count: 10.

Martínez walks. 1 out.

• batter: LF Ávila (0-4).
final count: 3-1.
• pitch count: 16.

Ávila reaches on error (3B). Martínez to 3rd. 1 out.

• batter: 1B Sosa (4-4).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 17.

Sosa singles to left-center. Martínez scores. Ávila to 2nd. 1 out.

• batter: 2B Oceguera (2-3).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 18.

Oceguera singles to short. Ávila to 3rd. Sosa to 2nd. 1 out.

• batter: C de los Santos (1-4).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 19.

Rain delay called. 1 out.

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As Benítez sat and contemplated the temporary reprieve from humiliation he had been granted, Leo Hernández braved the heavy drops to talk to his adversary.

Orlando Closner was a bit older than most LNP managers, but despite that, he had a reputation for heterodoxy. Hernández wondered if he’d be willing to shorten the game, put in his backups, make Bustamante throw with his other hand—literally anything that would make the game less of an embarrassment.

Unfortunately for Hernández, Closner knew his baseball too well, including that there had been multiple games where teams scored 40 combined runs. He sympathized. But no. There would be no rescue.

When the sun returned, 88 minutes later, so did the Bucaneros’ bats.

As there's no current picture of José Benítez, the picture is of an entirely hidden face, a "mystery player."

• pitcher: José Benítez.
• batter:
C de los Santos (1-4).
final count: 2-2.
• pitch count: 22.

De los Santos singles to 2nd. Ávila scores. Sosa to 3rd. Oceguera to 2nd. 1 out.

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Shortly after, José Benítez left the game.

José Benítez: 0.1 IP, 4 hits, 4 runs* / 2 earned runs, 1 walks, 0 strikeouts, 22 pitches. 54.00 [¡!] ERA.

* Benítez was responsible for Sosa being on base.

His replacement, Mario Peña, was a fellow second-string first baseman. He was 41 years old.

A reconstructed portrait of Mario Peña in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the A reconstructed portrait of Orlando Prieto in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

• pitcher: Mario Peña.
• batter:
CF Esparza (3-3).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 2.

Esparza singles to deep left-center. Sosa scores. Oceguera thrown out at home. 2 out.

• batter: P Bustamante (1-4).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 3.

Bustamante grounds out to 2nd. 3 out.

The Valencianos, Peña included, go down in order.

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6th inning

Mario Peña was not alone in being a 41-year-old man playing baseball.

He was probably, however, alone in being a 41-year-old man playing baseball extremely out of position, particularly considering that the position he normally played required little beyond a decent swing.

Over the next three outs, he would have plenty of opportunity to reflect on this difficulty

A reconstructed portrait of Mario Peña in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the A reconstructed portrait of Orlando Prieto in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

• pitcher: Mario Peña.
• batter:
RF Soriano (3-5).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 9.

Soriano singles between 1st and 2nd.

• batter: 3B Velasco (2-5).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 11.

Velasco reaches on error (P). Soriano to 2nd.

• batter: SS Martínez (1-3).
final count: 1-0.
• pitch count: 13.

Martínez singles to shallow center. Soriano scores on error (CF).

• batter: LF Ávila (0-5).
final count: 1-1.
• pitch count: 16.

Ávila flies out to right field. 1 out.

• batter: 1B Sosa (5-5).
final count: 3-0.
• pitch count: 20.

Sosa walks. Velasco to 3rd. Martínez to 2nd. 1 out.

• batter: 2B Oceguera (3-4).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 26.

Oceguera walks. Velasco scores. Martínez to 3rd. Sosa to 2nd. 1 out.

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Somehow, forcing in a run via base on balls was not the most embarrassing thing Peña did in this inning.

A reconstructed portrait of Mario Peña in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the A reconstructed portrait of Orlando Prieto in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

• pitcher: Mario Peña.
• batter:
C de los Santos (2-5).
final count: 1-0.
• pitch count: 28.

De los Santos reaches on fielder’s choice, Martínez thrown out at home. 2 out.

• batter: CF Esparza (4-4).
final count: 1-0.
• pitch count: 30.

Esparza singles to shallow center-right. Sosa scores. Oceguera scores. De los Santos to 2nd. 2 out.

• batter: P Bustamante (1-5).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 31.

Bustamante reaches on error (1B). De los Santos to 3rd. Esparza to 2nd. 2 out.

• batter: RF Soriano (4-6).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 32.

Soriano reaches on error (SS). De los Santos scores. Esparza to 3rd. 2 out.

• batter: 3B Velasco (2-6).
final count: 1-1.
• pitch count: 35.

Velasco pops up to the catcher in foul territory. 3 out.

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When Peña returned to the bench, Hernández called his earlier attempt at heads-up defense “nothing more than crap.” 

Peña failed to reply, and his manager, who had made a 41-year-old first baseman do something he had never remotely been prepared to do, asked him what his excuse was.

The next word would be the most satisfying one Mario Peña had said since he had put on a Valencianos uniform.

Officially, it was renuncio (“I quit”), though the Gacetero on the scene maintained it was far ruder.

Finally, Jorge de Anda got on base for Juncos—on an error, but it was something.

Bustamante decided that, regardless of his manager’s feelings, he had had enough of embarrassing the opposition, and requests to dismount.

Omar García, or “García el Policía,” as Bucaneros fans liked to call him, would one day amass a reputation as a premium closer in an era where few teams could rely on their relievers. He would end this season with a stellar 1.70 ERA over 74 innings.

Right now, however, his main decision was that Juncos had not suffered enough, as he lobbed six consecutive unsuccessful pickoff throws at de Anda.

Hernández and his players, incensed at this treatment, finally decided to show some aggression. Gallardo, on his way up, made sure to take a few practice swings at the empty air, more or less at the height of García’s head.

It sort of worked.

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7th inning

Peña, exhausted in both arm and patience, decided he wanted to throw a slider.

A reconstructed portrait of Mario Peña in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the A reconstructed portrait of Orlando Prieto in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos..

• pitcher: Mario Peña.
• batter:
PH Armando Hernández.
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 41.

Hernández walks.

 

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As Hernández, who had entered the game on Sergio Martínez’s insistence, trotted off to first base, Peña stared at his bench in defiance.

His manager admitted defeat and pulled him.

Mario Peña: 1.2 IP, 4 hits, 6 runs* / 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 0 strikeouts, 42** pitches. 10.80 [¡!] ERA.

* Peña was responsible for Hernández being on base.
** Pitch count includes one unrecorded foul ball.

Leo Hernández selected Prieto for three reasons: he was only twenty-six, had a good throwing arm, and unlike Peña, had thrown four innings in 1871.

He was also a catcher.

A reconstructed portrait of Orlando Prieto in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the A reconstructed portrait of Orlando Prieto in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

• pitcher: Orlando Prieto.
• batter:
PH Juan Urbina.
final count: 3-1.
• pitch count: 5.

Urbina singles on a line drive to left field. Hernández to 2nd.

• batter: 1B Sosa (5-5).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 7.

Sosa hit by pitch. Hernández to 3rd. Urbina to 2nd.

• batter: 2B Oceguera (3-4).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 8.

Oceguera singles to shallow center. Hernández scores. Urbina to 3rd. Sosa to 2nd.

• batter: C de los Santos (2-7).
final count: 2-2.
• pitch count: 13.

De los Santos singles to right field. Urbina scores. Sosa to 3rd. Oceguera to 2nd.

• batter: CF Esparza (5-5).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 15.

Esparza flies out to right field.

• batter: P Omar García.
final count: 0-2.
• pitch count: 18.

García flies out to center field.

• batter: PH Germán Gaona.
final count: 1-1.
• pitch count: 21.

Gaona flies out to left field.

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When Prieto returned to the dugout at the end of the inning, he pointed out, quite rightly, that it was the cleanest inning they’d had since the first.

He was promptly reminded, quite gently, that he let two pinch hitters score. In the bottom of the inning, he doubled, advanced to third on a groundout, and despite—or perhaps because of—his manager’s protests, was called out at home despite arriving far ahead of the ball.

8th inning

A reconstructed portrait of Orlando Prieto in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

• pitcher: Orlando Prieto.
• batter:
3B Velasco (2-7).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 22.

Velasco doubles to left-center.

• batter: 2B Hernández (0-0).
final count: 0-2.
• pitch count: 25.

Hernández singles to shallow left. Velasco scores.

• batter: RF Urbina (1-1).
final count: 2-2.
• pitch count: 30.

Urbina singles to shallow center-right. Hernández to 2nd.

• batter: 1B Sosa (5-5).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 36.

Sosa walks. Hernández to 3rd. Urbina to 2nd.

 

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Prieto is pulled far less ceremoniously than his predecessors.

Orlando Prieto: 1.0 IP, 6 hits, 5 runs* / 5 earned runs, 1 walks, 0 strikeouts, 43** pitches. 45.00 [¡!] ERA.

* Prieto was responsible for Hernández, Urbina and Sosa being on base.
** Pitch count includes seven unrecorded foul balls.

His replacement Recinos was in his thirties, had played left field and shortstop, and apparently had previously shown an interest in pitching.

Either because the stakes could not have been lower, or perhaps to disabuse him of this silly notion, Hernández sent him out with the bases loaded.

As there's no current picture of Andrés Recinos, the picture is of an entirely hidden face, a "mystery player."

• pitcher: Andrés Recinos.
• batter:
SS Oceguera (4-5).
final count: 2-1.
• pitch count: 4.

Oceguera reaches on error (SS). Hernández scores. Urbina to 3rd. Sosa to 2nd.

• batter: C de los Santos (3-8).
final count: 0-0.
• pitch count: 5.

De los Santos reaches on fielder’s choice. Urbina scores. Sosa to 3rd. Oceguera out at 2nd. 1 out.

• batter: CF Esparza (5-6).
final count: 2-1.
• pitch count: 9.

Esparza singles to deep center-right. Sosa scores. De los Santos scores.

• batter: P García (0-1).
final count: 1-2.
• pitch count: 13.

García reaches on error (SS). Esparza to 2nd.

• batter: LF Gaona (0-1).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 19.

Gaona strikes out looking. 2 out.

• batter: 3B Velasco (3-8).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 25.

Velasco pops out to third. 3 out.

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When Recinos turned back to the bench, his head still spinning, he was surprised to see his teammates cheering.

Despite allowing the Bucaneros to bat around a fifth time, in which they scored five runs, he had managed something none of his colleagues, not even on the Arroyo staff, had done: he had struck out a batter.

The Valencianos went down in order.

9th inning

As there's no current picture of Andrés Recinos, the picture is of an entirely hidden face, a "mystery player."

• pitcher: Andrés Recinos.
• batter:
2B Hernández (1-1).
final count: 0-2.
• pitch count: 28.

Hernández reaches on error (SS).

• batter: RF Urbina (2-2).
final count: 1-0.
• pitch count: 30.

Urbina doubles to deep right. Hernández to 3rd.

• batter: PH Miguel Rivera.
final count: 1-1.
• pitch count: 33.

Miguel Rivera reaches on error (CF). Hernández scores. Urbina to 3rd.

• batter: SS Oceguera (4-6).
final count: 2-1.
• pitch count: 37.

Oceguera hits a sacrifice fly to deep left field. Urbina scores. Rivera to 2nd. 1 out.

• batter: C de los Santos (3-9).
final count: 3-2.
• pitch count: 43.

De los Santos reaches 2nd on error (SS). Rivera scores.
1 out.

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On the one hand, Recinos reasoned, it’s not entirely on him.

He didn’t drop a bunch of easy catches. He didn’t miss any throws to first. He hit no slow flies out to right field.

And yet, he had the feeling that if this game were closer, he would strangle his own shortstop, who had in fact done all of those things over the previous two innings.

In the end, he never got the chance.

Andrés Recinos: 1.1 IP, 2 hits, 5 runs* / 1 earned runs, 1 walks, 0 strikeouts, 46 pitches. 45.00 [¡!] ERA.

* Recinos was responsible for de los Santos being on base.

Hernández looked around his dugout, full of players too exhausted and sad. He asked, in a voice redolent with defeat, if anyone was willing to relieve Recinos. He waited a very long time before, finally, his other starting pitcher stood up.

There was a small cheer when Julio Alvarado walks out to the mound. For all his popularity, there was only so much the remaining fifty or so Valencianos fans can do, noise-wise.

Alvarado didn’t care. He knew he could at least end this game with some semblance of dignity.

A reconstructed portrait of Julio Alvarado in home whites and, as a flourish, a cap with the logo of the Valencianos de Juncos.

• pitcher: Julio Alvarado.
• batter:
CF Esparza (6-7).
final count: 0-2.
• pitch count: 3.

Esparza flies out to left field. De los Santos to 3rd.
2 out.

• batter: P García (0-2).
final count: 0-1.
• pitch count: 5.

García singles to deep left-center. De los Santos scores. 2 out.

• batter: LF Gaona (0-2).
final count: 3-1.
• pitch count: 10.

Gaona singles to center-right. García to 2nd. 2 out.

• batter: 3B Velasco (3-9).
final count: 1-1.
• pitch count: 13.

Velasco grounds out to short. 3 out.

 

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After the game, de la Torre sat on the bench, inconsolable. This had been his first opportunity to show his team and its fans how good he could be, and he had blown it.

Julio Alvarado: 0.2 IP, 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 0 strikeouts, 13 pitches. 0.00 ERA.

Alvarado, characteristically even-keeled, sat in silence with him.

“Don’t worry about it, Ángel,” he said quietly. “We all have one bad outing in us.”

final box score

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the aftermath

Neither team slept well that night, though for very different reasons.

The Bucaneros were mobbed, over the next week, by interview requests, and not just from the Gaceta. Every player was suddenly a hometown celebrity, even poor Ángel Velasco, whose main role was to be left on base ten times.

“I can merely control what throws I choose to bat against, and I chose to apply my patience as necessary.”
— center fielder
Ramón Esparza,
who went 6-8, 3 R, 6 RsBI, 2 2B, HBP

The Bucaneros won their division for the first time in 1872, and would begin an incredible run of division titles in 1876.

The Valencianos finished second in their division in 1872, but were in permanent last place for a decade afterwards.

And Ángel de la Torre, whose first chance at stardom was absolutely blown to pieces? This game broke him.

He would lead the Liga Betances in losses three times:

• 1872: 14-23, 264.0 IP, 3.51 ERA (95 ERA+), 1.47 WHIP, 17 K / 13 BB.
• 1878: 9-29, 296.2 IP, 4.00 ERA (70 ERA+), 1.46 WHIP, 46 K / 24 BB.
• 1881: 5-31, 311.0 IP, 3.04 ERA (93 ERA+), 1.31 WHIP, 52 K / 41 BB.

Some of that was, no doubt, caused by his team being absolutely terrible: a sustained streak of last place finishes is no single pitcher’s fault.

But when Julio Alvarado retired in 1876, still extremely popular even outside Juncos, he was asked by the Gaceta what his main regret was.

As always, he was professional and to the point.

“Ángel deserved better from me.”
– Julio Alvarado,
after an 8-28 / 4.56 ERA / 3.64 FIP / 1.57 WHIP season

Comment away! / Dale, ¡di algo!

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