Cuba to Storm San Diego for WBC Semifinals
The movie “I Am Cuba” is a photography lovers delight, brought to the attention of the US alternative film scene by director Steven Spielberg. Now, “This is Cuban Baseball” is a story in the making of an amateur team that has shown big bucks are not the only factor in sports.
Cuba held on Wednesday night to defeat host Puerto Rico, 4-3, in a game full of tension that mounted by the inning. Before a sellout San Juan crowd, the Cubans earned one of two Pool 2 tickets to the one game semifinals of the World Baseball Classic in San Diego, California.
In its next hurdle towards the championship, Cuba faces the star-studded Dominican Republic on Saturday March 18.
A key to the game was Cuba’s ability to adjust to the pitching of Puerto Rican starter Dicky Gonzalez, who had faced them last Friday in a lopsided match lost by Cuba. Another big question was whether the Cuban pitchers, beginning with starter Ormari Romero, could stop the hard-hitting Puerto Ricans.
For those who have been following the WBC games it is no secret that as far as noise and enthusiasm goes, 20,000 Latin American fans on hand for the final game of the ”Caribbean Series”, within the WBC, might equal a hundred thousand in the United States, where baseball was born.
PLAY BY PLAY
Cuba jumped off to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first after two walks and a couple sacrifice groundballs. A third walk gave them two on with two out, but Osmani Urrutia was unable to come up with a clutch hit.
As Cuba was battling to score its first run, reliever Yunieski Maya was shown on ESPN in the bullpen fanning starter Ormari Romero with a towel on the hot humid evening.
In the bottom of the inning, Puerto Rican leadoff hitter Bernie Williams tied the game in one swing to right. But Romero wasn’t perturbed and settled down to retire the second, third and clean up batters.
Cuba had another good chance to score in the second after hits by Ariel Pestano and Alexei Ramirez with one out. But Puerto Rican starter Dicky Gonzalez got shortstop Eduardo Paret to fly to left and Michel Enriquez grounder to third.
After an easy third inning when he struck out Ariel Borrero and Frederich Cepeda, Gonzalez ran into big trouble in the fourth, allowing two hits and a walk that loaded the bases with one out with lead off hitter Eduardo Paret at the plate. Jose Oquendo, the Puerto Rican manager, gave Gonzalez the hook and brought in Jose Santiago.
Santiago hit Paret forcing in a run. After Yoandry Garlobo was thrown out at home on a roller to third by Michel Enriquez, Yulieski Gourriel, Cuba’s star second baseman stepped into the batting box.
With one out and the bases loaded Gourriel hit a routine grounder to short but a throwing error by Alex Citron allowed two runs to score giving Cuba a 4-1 lead. Reliever Jose Santiago got out of the jam when he got cleanup hitter Ariel Borrero to hit a liner to left fielder Jose Cruz Jr.
Then, besides some rocky moments, the Cuban pitchers rose to the occasion to get the job done.
After digesting the home run he allowed to Bernie Williams, Cuban starter Ormari Romero came on strong, allowing only two singles through the fourth when he was relieved by Adiel Palma.
Palma pitched his way out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fifth, and a double play in the sixth erased a walk and retired the side. However, the left-hander received a double by Jose Valentine to lead off the seventh followed by a hit by Alex Citron. With first and third and nobody out Manager Higinio Velez went to the bullpen bringing in right-hander Yunieski Maya.
Puerto Rico got its second run on a fielders choice and a close call on what should have been a force play at second. Cuban manager Higinio Velez, usually known for his calm demeanor, sharply protested the decision at second and was thrown out of the game by the umpire.
Then Bernie Williams stepped up to face Maya with two on and still nobody out. An excellent double play from Gourriel to Paret to Borrero was followed by a walk making it two outs with runners on first and third and the score at 4-2.
In what looked like an inning that could sink Cuba, Carlos Beltran lined a hit to center driving in Puerto Rico’s third run. But all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez tried to score from first, hoping to tie the score, and was gunned down on a relay throw from Alexei Ramirez to Yulieski Gourriel to Ariel Pestano.
While Yulieski was held hitless in four at bats, the strike he threw to get Rodriguez at home was probably the biggest play of the game.
Cuba showed little at the plate in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and Vicyohandri Odelin was brought in to pitch the eighth to try and protect a fragile one run lead.
After striking out Javy Lopez, Odelin got into a mess allowing three one out hits that loaded the bases. However shortstop Paret fielded a grounder by Luis Matos, touched second and got Alex Citron at first for a very timely double play to end the inning, ending the last scoring opportunity for Puerto Rico.
In the ninth. Odelin seemed to grow on the mound. He got Ruben Gotay on a liner to the pitcher, forced Bernie Williams to pop a foul fly caught by second baseman Yulieski Gourriel, and struck out Ivan Rodriguez to end the game.
It was an amazing win for Cuba and a startling loss for Puerto Rico.
While both teams wanted to win, the spirit of the Cuban players was evident from start to finish as the players on the bench almost never sat down to continually cheer on their team.
Ormari Romero was the winning pitcher going four innings and allowing three hits and one run. Dicky Gonzalez took the loss allowing all four of Cuba’s runs. Vicyohandri Odelin picked up a save. In all, Puerto Rico batted nine hits to Cuba’s six, which all came from the bottom of the batting order.
After the game, the Cuban and Puerto Rican players hugged each other on the field in an emotional end to an action packed game and a hotly contested series of good baseball among the four Caribbean sister nations playing in Round Two of the World Baseball Classic.
The Cubans and Puerto Ricans posed with each other for snapshots they themselves took to have as memories of what has been a fantastic tournament.
CUBANS SEE WBC GAMES LIVE
Cuban television has been showing virtually all the WBC games with programming going on into the wee hours of the morning to accommodate games played in California. On Wednesday turned Thursday, Cuban fans, too excited to sleep after their team’s win over Puerto Rico, watched the 2-1 South Korean victory over Japan in Pool 1.
A different aspect of the Cuban broadcasts is that all television and radio stations are without commercial advertising. The sports commentators used the frequent pauses to expand on their analysis of the game and the tournament, mixed with lively Cuban music.
With the qualifiers of Pool 2 decided (Dominican Republic and Cuba), the final Round 2 game in Pool 1 takes place on Thursday between the United States (1-1) and Mexico (0-2). The majority of Cuba will be watching.