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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Powerhouses to Collide In Moscow World Series

Who cares about the baseball strike in the States? Here in Moscow, we have a World Series all our own.


After a long summer of road trips, exhibitions, and bureaucratic entanglements, the race for the championship of Russian baseball will finally come to a head this weekend, in an American-style World Series playoff between CSKA and the Red Devils.


The series begins Saturday at 10:30 A.M. at Moscow State University, when these two "powerhouses" of Russian baseball will play the first game of a best-of-seven series. This is the first time the U.S.-style seven-game format has been used in Russia; previously finals were limited to five or three games.


The series is unusual for another reason. This may be the first Russian final in recent memory in which the top two teams will be closely competitive. In recent years the Red Devils, the only team with a committed private sponsor (Gulliver Investments, previously called "AO-Most"), have been so dominant both financially and on the field that the championship title was practically a foregone conclusion.


This year, however, CSKA, if they don't win outright, will probably push the series to six or seven games. They've stayed very close to the Red Devils in the standings all year and in the upcoming series will enjoy an enormous home field advantage in their games at Balshikha, where an extremely short right-field stadium wall will favor their predominantly left-handed lineup. Most of the league's leading hitters, like the home-run, slugging and doubles leader Sasha Bogatirev, play for CSKA and bat from the left side.


Earlier this week there was some confusion as to whether the games would actually take place. This round of games was originally scheduled to begin Aug. 21, but the series was cancelled when the third and fourth-place teams, CSKA-PVO and Moscow State University, asked the Russian Baseball Federation to consider putting on another round of semifinals. For days the situation remained unresolved while the weather here in Moscow worsened, and by Tuesday of this week few players had any idea if the games would take place at all. I dropped by a Red Devils practice on that day and found that players there were beginning to get some strange ideas about the uncertain schedule.


"There's no problem with the schedule. We're just on strike. If the Americans are striking, then we can strike too," joked Ilya Bogatirev (no relation), the Devils' star infielder and a veteran of the American minor leagues, where he played in the California Angels system. "Russian professionals should support American professionals."


But the problem resolved itself on Tuesday afternoon, when the Federation decided against further semifinals and elected to go forward with the seven-game schedule.


Game 2 of the series will be on Sunday, again at 10:30 a.m. Games 3 and 4 will be in Balashikha on Tuesday and Wednesday. The remaining games, if necessary, will be held at MGU the following weekend. Admission is free to all games.


I will be in uniform for CSKA, but whether or not I play, is of course, the coaches' decision.


In any case, the team is ready. One player, who asked not to be identified, sent a message to the Red Devils using an old Russian saying.


"We'll show them where the lobsters spend the winter."