A Nigerian-born rising star has emerged in USA’s Major Baseball League (MLB), as the new name on all lips heading into the off-season is Marcell Ozuna Idelfonso, who currently plays for Atlanta Braves got a little ahead of themselves, megasportsarena.com reports.
Although he could not help his side go all the way to the title this year, and the franchise have to wait longer for their first MBL World Series in 20 years, many lovers of the sport did not miss the spark brought into the team by Ozuna, whose sterling efforts in their ultimate game left many in awe.
The lad with Nigerian ancestry, though, had to leave the game early on what would have been a sacrifice fly with his team leading in the third inning, and the game soon turned in Los Angeles’ favor, as The Dodgers stayed alive in the NL Championship Series with a 7-3 victory in Game 5 on Friday night.
Ozuna, born November 12, 1990 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic is officially registered under the banner of the country of his birth, where his father is a former painter and his mother a housekeeper, with a brother and two sisters as his siblings; while he is also a cousin to former MLB ace, Pablo Ozuna.
Nicknamed ‘The Big Bear,’ the baseball left fielder previously played for Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, after making his top-flight debut in 2013 with The Marlins, which he signed for as an amateur free agent in 2008.
He is a two-time MLB All-Star (in 2016 and 2017), winning both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger Award in 2017, which was his breakout season; same year in which he finished fourth in the USA National League (NL) batting average (.312), third in home runs (37) and runs batted in (124).
Following the 2017 season, The Marlins traded Ozuna to St. Louis Cardinals, and he led the NL in both home runs and RBIs in 2020 after which the ace of the moment, who is married to Genesis Guzman, signed a one-year contract worth $18m with The Braves on January 21, 2020.
On July 24, Ozuna was the starting left fielder for Atlanta, making his Braves debut on Opening Day and he on September 1 became the first National League player to hit three home runs in one game at Fenway Park, and reached 1,000 MLB career hits.
The Braves held a 3-2 series lead after a bullpen game that started well but went awry, with their top two starters lined up for the final two games and, a night after hitting two homers in a 10-2 win, Ozuna started off the bag at third base when Dansby Swanson hit a liner to right field with Atlanta already off to a 2-0 lead.
Realizing Mookie Betts had a chance to make the catch, Ozuna retreated to the base, but still pulled his foot off too soon as Betts made a running, lunging catch just above his shoe tops, then slid headfirst at home; but third baseman, Justin Turner was already standing at third waving his arms, and several Dodgers in the dugout had noticed as well.
LA did not have to appeal because the play went to review, and the ruling of a sacrifice fly and 3-0 Atlanta lead was changed to an inning-ending double play, after which Los Angeles got rolling offensively, with Corey Seager leading off the fourth with a home run.
The Dodgers went ahead for good in the sixth on Will Smith’s three-run shot off the reliever of the same name, while Atlanta’s A.J. Minter became the first pitcher to make his first career start in the postseason, and now is the only starter or reliever in postseason history with seven strikeouts in three or fewer innings.
The left-hander allowed one hit, and Minter was replaced by Tyler Matzek, who two years ago was pitching for an independent league team in a nearly empty stadium just a few miles from Globe Life Field, where the first-ever neutral-site NLCS is being played at the home of the Texas Rangers.
This crowd was not what it could have been, with another COVID-19 pandemic-reduced total of spectators to just about 11,000 in the first setting with fans this season, and they ended up with duds instead of a fairy tale October story.
Matzek surrendered Seager’s homer, and two innings later Atlanta’s Smith walked the first hitter he faced, Max Muncy, with two outs, forcing the lefty and losing pitcher to face LA’s Smith, a right-handed hitter. The Dodgers catcher hit a 3-2 fastball 404 feet into the seats in left.
The three-batter minimum wasn’t a factor for Snitker with his Smith, who didn’t allow a hit or walk in his first five appearances this postseason but has walked three and allowed three runs in the last two games in this series.
Jacob Webb gave up Seager’s second homer of the game and fourth of the series, a two-run shot after Mookie Betts’ RBI single in the seventh, after which Fried struck out nine in six innings in a no-decision in Game 1, when the Braves scored four times in the ninth in a 5-1 win.
Fried, who pitched seven innings in another no-decision in Atlanta’s playoff opener, a 1-0 win over Cincinnati in 13 innings, said: “It’s going to be all about execution. It’s kind of more of the same, not trying to overdo too much, not trying to overthink.”