HAVANA (AP) – A bench-clearing brawl in which a ballplayer hit a rival in the face with a bat disgusted sports fans and had pundits bemoaning the state of Cuba's national sport Tuesday.
The melee between Matanzas and Villa Clara, the top two teams in the standings, was broadcast live on national television to shocked viewers Monday night.
The trouble came in the seventh inning after Matanzas catcher Eriel Sanchez hit a solo home run off right-hander Freddy Asiel Alvarez, one of Cuba's best pitchers and a member of the national team.
Alvarez beaned the next man up at the plate, Yasiel Santoya, who was taken out of the game by manager Victor Mesa as a precaution.
Two batters later Alvarez came back in high-and-tight with a pitch and hit the upper arm of the coach's son, Victor Victor Mesa.
Video images show Matanzas' Demis Valdes charging the mound brandishing a wooden bat at Alvarez, who rips off his glove and hurls it. Valdes takes a vicious right-handed cut, though it's not clear if he misses the ducking pitcher or lands a glancing blow.
But Valdes' backswing catches Villa Clara captain and first baseman Ramon Lunar in the face, knocking him to the ground.
"You have to put a stop to that. That can't happen," the TV announcer said as other players tackled Valdes and wrested the bat from him.
Both dugouts emptied as coaches and players met in a scrum near the third-base line that resulted in a long delay. Lunar was hospitalized overnight for observation, but not seriously injured.
"He has no facial fractures, only lacerations to the lower and upper lips and nose, all with a favorable prognosis," Cuban journalist Yimmi Castillo said on state television.
Matanzas won 3-0 and remains atop the standings.
The following day, fans were chattering about the brawl.
"That's not even baseball. It's a shame," said Arnaldo Soler, a 23-year-old student dressed in the jersey of Havana's powerhouse team, Industriales.
"I love baseball but I'm a little disgusted. I think the Cubans aren't playing well," Soler added in allusion to recent poor performances in international tournaments. "And then incidents like this are an embarrassment."
It was not without precedent, however.
In 2010, Lisban Correa of Industriales chased a Sancti Spiritus player around the field with a bat before catching up and clubbing him. Correa earned a season-long suspension.
Valdes was hit with a one-year suspension Tuesday night. The Cuban Baseball Federation's disciplinary committee also ordered a suspension for Alvarez, but no length was given in the notice read on state television's evening news.
In a column published by official media, pundit Oscar Sanchez Serra lamented that Cuban baseball is not immune to the kind of ugliness that has tarnished sports elsewhere.
"In this way, before we even play, we won't win in either the Caribbean Series or anywhere, not for lack of talent or because there's no professional sports but for lack of professionalism," said Sanchez, who is sub-director of the Communist Party newspaper Granma.
"Where is it going to stop? Much has been tolerated," he wrote. "What we are seeing in baseball is an assault on our very culture and a lack of respect to the audience that comes to the stadium and watches on TV."