José Ángel García speaks as a spear, as if coming from the bullpen to smother the fire in a decisive match. As if having a couple of men on bases and he has no other option than striking his rival out. He’s lapidary in every sentence, without detours. He bites his inseparable piece of grass in his mouth and comes over me with his dry ball.
“That is the mission of a reliever: striking out. You always come with troubled waters and the best option is to strike out, if they hit, you were not effective, the runners advance and can score, “says José Ángel on the phone, in the distance.
A few days ago I dialed his cell phone number from a landline and the call only lasted three rings. I stammered what I had rehearsed as a preamble and he agreed to give some of his time from his room in a hotel of Artemisa, which name I forgot to ask.
A day earlier, José Ángel had reached a thousand strikeouts in National Series, a feat for a closer, for a man who since joining the tournament has just put out fires, or who comes from the bullpen to the box as an exemplary firefighter to ease the situation; always in the end of the matches, as preventive seal or risk controller, a life insurance.
“Striking out is my addiction, that is my way of life. The strikeout is fundamental to the bullpen; it gets you out of trouble. In the most embarrassing situations, it is the only weapon a good reliever can use, “he tells me immediately, as if it had it written before him.
García wears number 99 on his back and is the historical leader in saves in National Series. He is from Guanajay municipality and when not pitching, he is transmuted into a barber. ” I learned that job since childhood, I enjoy it a lot, it relaxes me, I love to see a well finished haircut, a head with the proper cuts is like accommodating a hitter to then striking him out, you must work fine to send him home”.
Garcia’s thousandth strikeout went to Granma’s Guillermo Aviles at July 26 Stadium in Artemisa. José Ángel was called in the eighth inning of a match that seemed paranoid to coach Danny Valdespino. The barber arranged the mound with his right spike, scratched the earth, and threw four warm-up pitches, two fastballs, two breakinballs. Done. Next, please. The lefty Avilés went to the batting box, he received several fastballs really closed to him. He could not avoid falling in the hole, García does not forgive with the account in his favor, he threw a slider and that was all.
“I was lucky to become a closer very early in the National Series. That is a specialty that does not exist in Cuba. People are advocating again and again for it, but there’s no really a conception of that work. Look at Cuban national teams and you’ll easily find that relievers have no place in the staff “, he adds startled, the issue touches him closely.
In Cuba there is not a closer with the consistency and statistics of José Ángel García. In 17 seasons he has prescribed 1001 strikeouts in 962 innings, working for an ERA of 3.36, which has allowed him achieving 59 wins and 187saves. And hear this: Garcia’s opponents only bat for an anaemic average of .231. Great numbers that have earned him nothing.
“There is no frustration about it, it already passed, there was a time that I did regret it, but not now. I have the consolation of being the best closer in the country; the fact of not being called to represent my country is not my fault. The statistics are there and cannot be deleted “.
Last question: Is there more pressure when closing than when opening a game? I asked him.
– “There is always pressure; the matter is to be even-tempered, to have restraint. The closers are almost always brought in complicated situations, so you have to stay focused, look for the strikeout, a fly or a groundout do not help you, but batters can do nothing if you strike them out. “