MOSCOW — On the mild, late summer day of Aug. 29, the Moscow teams RusStar and Wolves wrapped up the 2021 Russian Series at the picturesque RusStar Arena field. Leading Russian baseball’s championship three games to one, RusStar needed just one win to celebrate back-to-back Russian championships. It would not be easy, though, as Wolves countered with their best pitcher, Andrey Lobanov, who had won the first game of the Russian Series, 4-1. But in the end, with the sun setting over the hills to the west of Russia’s capital, David Castillo’s second home run of the night gave RusStar a 2-1 advantage in the top of the ninth inning, a lead the defending champions would hold to secure its second consecutive Russian championship.
Game Five began with the Wolves full of confidence. Pitching on five days’ rest, the club’s ace – the tall left-hander Lobanov – was at his best. Using his deadly combination of fastball and curveball, Lobanov made quick work of RusStar’s batting order over the first six innings, in which a matching number of zeroes were hung on the scoreboard. All in all, Lobanov gave up two hits and one run while striking out six in seven innings of work. However, the one run he surrendered was very costly. With the defending champions’ line-up sputtering, RusStar’s shortstop David Castillo came up to bat in the seventh with confidence still peaking. After fouling off the first pitch with a bunt attempt, Castillo launched the second pitch deep over the left-field fence and into the Moscow night to tie the score at one apiece.
With the score tied, all the momentum shifted RusStar’s way and one could just smell and feel it in the cool evening air. Gone with the wind was the Wolves’ confidence that they could get back into the series, and gone from the mound was Lobanov, with right-hander Artyom Logunov replacing him.
In the top of the ninth, with one out and the bases empty, Castillo stepped up to the plate again. The writing was on the wall andmany in attendance must have been thinking, “Just let him have his base!“. But no intentional walk or a crafty pitch-around followed. Logunov decided to pitch to Castillo straight up and was burned after initial success.
After falling behind 1-2, Castillo took his time, collected his thoughts, and calmly smashed the next pitch over the left-field fence once again. While the rest of RusStar’s batting order went 1-for-25 on the day, David Castillo went 3-for-4 with two RBI. RusStar’s winning pitcher was Adrian Rodríguez, who pitched three no-hit innings, striking out four Wolves. After giving up the deciding home run to Castillo, Wolves reliever Logunov took the loss.
For smashing two home runs in the fifth game, RusStar’s shortstop David Castillo was named the MVP of the final series. His teammate Anton Trusov got the nod as the top defender for his gold-glove infield defense. Wolves ace Andrey Lobanov (1-0, 1.29 ERA, 15 SO) was named the tournament’s best pitcher, while RusStar’s Geidis Soler took home the best batter award. Over the course of the five-game series, Soler hit .550 with three homers and 15 RBI.
The Russian domestic season will wrap up with the Russian Cup tournament from Sept 26 – Oct 4.
Victor Shestopalov is the editor-in-chief of the Russian Baseball Federation site (http://baseballrussia.ru), as well as an advanced scout for the Russian National Baseball Team. He will be contributing coverage of Russian domestic baseball and the Russian National Team. This piece has been lightly edited.