By Aliet Arzola Lima
When the great Enrique Díaz was still active, there was nobody in sight to claim the throne of the “King of Steal” in the National Series. The Bullet of Central Havana had earned such nickname out of his own merit, with 11 stolen bases crowns from 1987 until 2004, the years of his first and last stolen bases titles in Cuban baseball.
After 2004, the scene of one-player dominance changed completely, to the point that for the next 18 years–up to the 60th National Series–14 different players have led the league in stolen bases.
This list includes names like Carlos Tabares, Yohandri Urgellés, José Julio Ruiz, Rusney Castillo, Luis Yander La O, Yurisbel Gracial, Dairon Blanco, Víctor V. Mesa, Lázaro Rodríguez or Yuniesky Larduet, the last two are the only ones who have led the league more than once.
The most interesting case of them all is Larduet’s, the only one who has been really consistent as the leader in steals in the Cuban domestic tournaments, a position that has been vacant since Enriquito retired almost a decade ago.
The Las Tunas native was the best base stealer in the 57th, 58th and 59th Series, three consecutive titles that are a record in the Cuban baseball classics, as only two other players had previously done it before: Antonio Jiménez (1971-1973) and Enrique Díaz (1993-1996).
In the 57th installment, the Leñadores’ (Lumberjacks) lead-off man stole 23 bases and was caught 12 times. Next seasons he got his best career numbers by swiping 23 bases in 45 tries, whereas in the 59th and 60th seasons he managed 21 and 25 steals, respectively.
Larduet has been the most consistent of Cuban base stealers in the last five years–including postseasons and the current National Series–a period in which he has managed 113 steals in 156 tries, for a galactic success rate of 73.4%. Thanks to these numbers, he is the current leader in steals among active players (174) and 19th all time. He is not far from joining the 15 men who have stolen 200 bases.
But the Las Tunas outfielder doesn’t have enough. This Sunday, against the Cocodrilos de Matanzas, Larduet turned on his jet engines and literally destroyed young catcher Andrys Pérez and pitcher Yoanni Yera. None of the two found an effective equation to get him out in any of the six times he tried to steal.
Before the Sunday game against the Leñadores, Andrys Pérez had a 37.5% success rate (6 for 16) catching would-be base stealers, below the 42% league average. Now, after the Larduet carnage, his percentage has dropped to 27.2.
The feast started in the very first inning, when the Las Tunas native got a single to right. With Andrés Quiala in the batting cage, he stole second and then third while Yordanis Alarcón was at the plate. He would score on a two run double by Yosvani Alarcón.
The script was almost identical in the third frame: single up the middle and then stealing second and third with Quiala at the plate. He scored on a single by Yordanis Alarcón.
In his next at bat, the Leñadores’ outfielder flied out to left, but in the seventh inning he reached base on a walk and stole second and third, but he was left stranded because Quiala flied out with two outs.
Larduet reached base two more times, but both of them he had a runner on second and he couldn’t try to steal. However, both runs he scored were highly important for his team, because they ultimately won 4-3 in extra-innings.
We need to highlight that Larduet was very close from achieving a historic feat, because nobody in 60 years of National Series has managed seven steals in the same game. The last time somebody achieved the feat was almost 30 years ago.
Larduet has tied the record of six steals in the same game, held by José Antonio Estrada, Ermidelio Urrutia and Víctor Mesa, all of whom managed them in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Estrada, playing for Henequeneros, was the first to do so in 1989, when he stole six bases against the Citricultores catchers, in a game played during the 29th National Series.
Estrada broke the record held until then by Matanzas players Reinaldo Isasi and Félix Isasi (both during the same game) and Havana outfielder Antonio Jiménez. After that, Urrutia and Mesa also stole six bases in a game, but during the Select Series (Series Selectivas). The Las Tunas outfielder did it playing for Mineros on March 26, 1991 against Agropecuarios. Mesa managed the feat on April 15, 1992 in a game between Las Villas and Camagüeyanos.
Larduet has tied a record more than 30 years old, something worth putting in the headlines. Besides, he tied Francisco Martínez (Santiago de Cuba) and Eliseo Rojas (Isla de la Juventud) for the league lead in steals this season with 11.