By Kirk Kenney
SAN DIEGO—Cuba manager Higinio Velez preached patience after the team’s World Baseball Classic loss on Sunday to Japan.
“Nobody will win this Classic without any lost games,” Velez said through an interpreter. “We have really good experience, we want to win, and we already are psychologically being prepared for tomorrow. Our fans need to stay calm and trust in us.”
Velez was good to his word in Monday night’s 7-4 victory over Mexico before 9,329 at Petco Park.
On Wednesday night, Cuba will play an elimination game against the loser of Tuesday night’s Japan-Korea game.
And remain calm, Cuba fans, Velez said pitcher Norge Vera will be just fine, too.
Vera left the game with a calf injury in the fifth inning, but Velez said the pitcher will not miss his next start should the Cubans advance to the next round.
“He went to the hospital, he came back and he will be ready to be pitching upon his turn,” said Velez. “He has no injuries that are of concern.”
Vera used a fastball-slider combination effectively to beat Mexico, allowing two runs on three hits over 4 2/3 innings while striking out five. Vera employed a high leg kick that conjured up images of countryman Orlando Hernandez. Like El Duque, Vera nearly brought his left knee to his nose on each pitch.
It was Vera’s trail leg that was the real cause for concern, however. Vera suffered an apparent cramp in his right calf on a fifth-inning pitch to Mexico’s Freddy Sandoval, who plays in the Angels system. Vera tried to walk it off, had a trainer take a look, took a few warmup pitches and resumed.
Three pitches later, Vera’s calf grabbed him again. This time he crumpled to the ground in front of the mound and had to be helped from the field.
Vera was nearing his pitch limit (Sandoval was to be his last batter), so his departure was of little consequence in this game. It’s his next one that is cause for concern.
Cuba’s bats, quieted a night earlier by Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, came back to life against Mexico.
Left fielder Frederich Cepeda provided the spark. Cepeda singled in a run in the third inning that gave Cuba a 2-0 lead and he hit bases-loaded double in the fifth that made it 5-2 after Mexico had tied the game an inning earlier.
Cepeda was 3-for-4 for the second straight night, boosting his batting average to a WBC-leading .600. Cuba right fielder Yoennis Gourriel added a two-run single in the seventh that provided a nice cushion when Mexico hit a pair of solo homers off reliever Pedro Lazo in the final two innings.
Kirk Kenney is a sportswriter based in San Diego.
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