BANGOR, Maine — The Chitre, Herrera, Panama Senior League baseball team’s bid to win a world championship nearly self-destructed less than 24 hours earlier amid a series of ejections and suspensions.
But 15-year-old Javier Garcia wouldn’t let his short-handed Latin American team fail Saturday afternoon, pitching Panama to a 2-1 victory over Kennett Square, Pa., in the nationally televised Senior League World Series title game at Mansfield Stadium.
The righthander combined a hard-breaking curveball with a fastball clocked as high as 91 miles per hour as he approached the Senior League’s 95-pitch limit in the seventh inning.
“I had a lot of faith in the curve,” said Garcia through an interpreter.
And the U.S. East champions could do little with either pitch, with Garcia allowing just one unearned run on four hits while striking out nine batters, walking one and hitting a batter.
Panama played the final without its manager, one of two coaches and starting players Luis Alonso and Gertrudis Tello, all serving one-game suspensions after being ejected from Friday’s 5-4, 12-inning semifinal victory over Martinez, Ga.
Manager Azael Dominguez Dominguez and Alonso were ejected in the first inning of that game after Alonso was found to be using an illegal bat.
Coach Oscar Guardia Baule and Tello were ejected in the 11th inning after Tello spiked Georgia first baseman Wilfredo Colon-Rios’ ankle with what was ruled as malicious intent while trying to beat out a ground ball.
The remainder of the roster and the lone surviving coach, Jorge Luis Cedeno, used the team’s plight as motivation in the final — the rematch of a pool-play game won by Panama that included a hard home-plate collision between Garcia and Kennett Square’s Eric Duerr that left the Pennsylvania catcher with a concussion and whiplash.
“Personally I maintain there’s a question about all that,” said Kennett Square manager Todd Duerr of the incident that left his son and one of the team’s top hitters sidelined and wearing a neck brace. “But I’ll just leave it at that.”
Yet Team Panama’s motivation was quelled for most of the final by Kings’ righthander Alex Pechin, who pitched a complete-game seven-hitter and took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning.
Kennett Square scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the fourth. Joe Zirolli hit a one-out double to left-center, then reached third when his slide into the base knocked the ball free from third baseman Edgardo Sandoval’s glove after Sandoval took a throw from shortstop Luis Mendoza on a grounder by Tucker Reese.
Jake Freeman walked to load the bases, then Zirolli scored on Eric Takoushian’s slow groundout to second base.
Panama finally answered in the top of the sixth, scoring its only runs with some help from the Pennsylvania defense.
Abel Gallardo beat out a sharp single to right field despite almost being thrown out at first base by Zirolli, then advanced to second when Pechin issued his lone walk of the game to Abel Frias, who was trying to bunt.
Mendoza sacrificed the runners to second and third bases, and Gallardo scored when Takoushian at shortstop could not come up cleanly with Sandoval’s grounder up the middle.
Pechin retired Garcia on a pop-out for the second out, but his next pitch glanced off the glove of catcher Andrew Jones and went to the backstop, with the passed ball allowing Frias to score what turned out to be the winning run.
We had a bad inning,” said Todd Duerr. “I think we had two or three errors, however you want to score them, and a walk and that translates into runs given up.”
Jones had moved to catcher in the fourth inning for starter Ryan Barrett, the replacement for Eric Duerr and potential reliever in the game who could not have pitched had he worked more than three innings behind the plate, according to Senior League rules.
Jones had not caught previously during Kennett Square’s run to the SLWS final, Todd Duerr said.
Team Pennsylvania managed one final threat against Garcia in the bottom of the seventh.
Freeman reached on a throwing error by Sandoval and Takoushian singled to center to give the Kings runners on first and second with no one out, and they were sacrificed to second and third by Dan Garver.
But Garcia responded with some of his biggest heat of the game, throwing fastballs clocked in the upper 80s and low 90s as he struck out Chris Tucker and got Drew Jarmuz to foul out to first base to give Panama its second SLWS crown overall and first since Panama City won it all in 2000.
The new world champs got big offensive production out of the bottom of its lineup, with No. 8 hitter Rafael de Leon — Tello’s replacement in the batting order — hitting a double and a single and No. 9 Gallardo singling twice to go with two singles by Sandoval.
Takoushian singled twice for Kennett Square.
“The formula’s pretty straight forward,” said Todd Duerr. “We couldn’t generate the offense when we needed to. We tried a lot of different strategies there in the bottom of the seventh between hitting and bunting and fly balls. None of them are right, none of them are wrong, it’s just whether or not you can execute it and we fell short one run.”