Puerto Rico Hands Cuba Worst Loss Since 1983

SAN JUAN, P.R.–For all those Puerto Rico amateur teams that came
back from international competitions with their tails tucked between
their legs, for all those minor league teams that replaced them and
couldn’t measure up either, this one might have made up for it.

The
best team of professionals Puerto Rico has yet to assemble did to
Cuba’s Big Red Machine on Friday night what it had been doing to Puerto
Rico’s scrawny younger siblings for years, pounding them into
submission, 12-2 in front of 19,736 witnesses at Hiram Bithorn Stadium
on Friday night.

Sure, Puerto Rico was facing the bottom
third of Cuba’s pitching staff, in a game whose only significance was
in determining the order in which Puerto Rico will play the Dominican
Republic and Venezuela in the second round.

But it was just
the second time any team, amateur or professional, has beaten the
Cubans by the mercy rule – Taiwan did it the fist time, 13-1 at the
Intercontinental Cup in Belgium in 1983 – an affront that surely won’t
go over well in Havana, where the Cuban government has set up a big
screen TV for fans to watch this 16-nation tournament.

“These things happen. We lost the battle but not the war,” Cuba manager Higinio Velez said. “The war starts on Sunday.”

Playing for pride–and both sides have more than enough–Friday’s game began as if it would be a taut thriller throughout.

Yankees
veteran Bernie Williams got Puerto Rico on the board first in the
second inning, launching a two-run homer well over the wall in right
field off of Luis Borroto, who came on to relieve starter Yulieski
Gonzalez after Gonzalez walked three straight batters in the first
inning. He almost hit another one in the sixth, but it was snared at
the warning track by Osmany Urrutia.

“It was a great
feeling,” Williams said of the home run and the curtain call he was
asked to give afterward. “Playing here is like playing the World Series
in March. My mom and my uncle were in the stands and they hadn’t seen
me play for a long time. Being able to perform as I did was very
fortunate.”

Cuba responded in its next at bat, putting its
first two runners on base for Urrutia, who singled home a run with one
out, but the Cubans could manage no more against Puerto Rico starter
Dicky Gonzalez.

Gonzalez settled in nicely over his final two innings, setting a standard for the relievers who followed.

Unfortunately
for the Cubans, their pitchers were following the standard set by
Yulieski Gonzalez. Control issues plagued them all night long.

Puerto
Rico’s 12 runs came courtesy of just 10 hits and eight free passes.
Cuban pitchers also surrendered three home runs, all with runners on
base.

“Puerto Rico is a very strong team, but our pitching
was off today,” said Velez. “We had eight walks. Obviously we did not
expect such a huge deficit.

“Things like this happen in
Major League Baseball almost every day. Teams beat up each other like
this, so it’s not out of the ordinary. We get another chance in the
second round.”

Alex Cintron, now of the White Sox, hit
Puerto Rico’s second homer with a runner on board to begin the scoring
in Puerto Rico’s five-run fourth inning, when it sent nine men to the
plate.

Alex Cora singled to keep the momentum going, and
reliever Maikel Vera walked Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran to load
the bases. Vera was replaced by Dennis Suarez, who walked Eduardo Perez
to force in Puerto Rico’s fifth run and Jose Cruz Jr., batting
righthanded against the next Cuban reliever, lefthander Yosvany Perez,
dropped in a single that scored two more.

Puerto Rico
continued its onslaught in the fifth inning with RBI singles from
Cintron and Yadier Molina before Beltran took an offering from the
sixth Cuban pitcher, Jonder Martinez, well over the wall down the line
in right field for the final insult.

Cuba nearly avoided
application of the mercy rule in the home half of the seventh after
Juan Carlos Moreno was hit by a pitch from Jose Santiago and scored
when left fielder Eduardo Perez misplayed a Michel Enriquez fly ball in
left field into a run-scoring triple.

Fernando Cabrera recovered to get Yuliesky Gourriel to ground out to third base, ending the game.

Puerto Rico’s Gonzalez, who allowed two hits an a run over four innings, got the win. Borroto took the loss.

“It
always gives you pride to pitch for your country and to see the stands
full of people supporting you–it really motivates us to give it our
best,” said Gonzalez, who pitched in Japan last season.

With
a perfect 3-0 record, Puerto Rico will play the Dominican Republic, the
top team in Pool D, in Sunday’s late game, Venezuela on Monday night at
9 p.m. and Cuba in a rematch on Wednesday.

Cuba faces Venezuela in the early game Wednesday and the Dominican Republic on Tuesday.

International | #2006 #International Affairs #World Baseball Classic

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