Cuba has one last chance to win an international baseball event this year.
The Intercontinental Cup, which runs through Nov. 19, began play Wednesday in Taiwan. Cuba is the only North American nation involved in the eight-team event, which also includes Italy and the Netherlands from Europe; Australia; and Asian teams China, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea.
While Cuba usually dominates international baseball and started the year with a strong second-place showing in the World Baseball Classic, the nation has been shut out this year, despite playing host to three major international events over the summer. Cuba didn’t even reach the finals at the youth (16-and-under), junior (18-under) or FISU World University (college-aged) events even though it was host of the latter two. And while it tied for the best record at the Americas Olympic Qualifier in August (also played in Cuba), it lost the head-to-head matchup with Team USA. Both nations qualified for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Cuba opened play with a hard-fought 3-2 victory against the Dutch, with ace lefty Adiel Palma going eight innings and striking out seven against a Dutch lineup that features familiar names such as ex-big leaguers Eugene Kingsale and Ivanon Coffie. It has a new coach in Rey Anglada Vincente Ferrer, a former star second baseman who played in the 1970s and early ’80s, but otherwise, Cuba has sent a team that closely resembles its World Baseball Classic roster. It includes star second baseman Yulieski Gourriel, who went 0-for-4 in the opener, and veteran catcher Ariel Pestano, who homered and had two of Cuba’s 10 hits. Closer Pedro Luis Lazo finished up the victory with a scoreless inning Wednesday.
Japan, using a team that mixes veteran minor leaguers and younger players from their FISU college team, beat Australia 4-3 in 10 innings in its opener. Australia’s roster features several affiliated players, such as lefthanders Adam Blackley and Tim Cox (Red Sox), who got the loss in relief, as well as shortstop Paul Rutgers (Twins). South Korea run-ruled Philippines 10-0, and in the event’s biggest surprise, Italy stunned host Taiwan 13-3 in the first game for both clubs. Taiwan’s roster features at least two affiliated pitchers in Sung-Wei Tseng (Indians) and Po-Hsuan Keng (Blue Jays), as well as second baseman Yung-Chi Chen (Mariners).
Italy banged out 19 hits in the game and overcame four errors of its own. Minor league veteran Jim Buccheri had two hits, as did first baseman Alex Liddi (Mariners), one of the event’s youngest players at 18.
Cuba won the event the last time it was held, in 2002, when it was the host country. The U.S. has not participated in the Cup since 1999.