SAN JUAN, P.R.–Get ready for bedlam.
The game between Cuba and Puerto Rico scheduled for Friday might not
mean much in the standings, as both teams have qualified for the World
Baseball Classic’s second round, but the intensity level–in the stands
as much as on the field–promises to be off the charts.
The last time the Cubans played at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, in an
exhibition game against the winter league San Juan Metros in December
1993 – it was a game for the ages. More than 22,000 fans jammed the
stadium, overflowing into the isles to watch the Cubans play for the
first time against a team with major league players.
plane – rented by an anti-Castro Cuban group – circled the playing
field from inning one through nine, flying a banner with a phone number
for potential defectors to call.
The stands were awash with
Cuban. U.S. and Puerto Rican flags, political signs – both pro and anti
Castro – and a tension that bubbled over into fistfights on a couple of
On the field, the son of a Cuban exile, Carlos
Reyes, took the mound for the San Juan team. Behind him were big
leaguers Edgar Martinez, Carlos Baerga, Javier Lopez, Ryan Thompson and
Cuba, at the height of its baseball potency,
responded with a squad that included Omar Linares at third base, German
Mesa at shortstop, Antonio Pacheco at second base and Orestes Kindelan
at first base. In the outfield Victor Mesa, Lourdes Gourriel and
Ermidelio Urrutia. Most of those players were on Cuba’s Olympic gold
medallists in 1992 and ’96.
The team’s ace, Lazaro Valle took the mound for a game that mirrored the tension in the stands.
back-and-forth battle was tied at two through eight innings. Then
German Mesa laid down a suicide squeeze in the ninth inning that plated
the go ahead run for Cuba. San Juan put a runner on in the ninth
against Cuba’s stud-closer, Omar Ajete, but was down to its final out
when Javier Lopez shook the walls, lining a walk-off home run just
inside the left-field foul pole.
Politically, mot much has
changed since then. Fidel Castro still rules Cuba and the U.S. embargo
against that island nation remains in place. Cuban baseball is still a
mystery to those outside.
The world of baseball, however, is considerably different.
are now allowed in tournaments previously open only to amateurs, and
the World Baseball Classic, a project 12 years in the making, kicked
off last week in Tokyo, bringing us to what awaits tonight – a rematch
13 years in the making.
Taking the mound for Puerto Rico
will be journeyman minor league righthander Dicky Gonzalez, who is 3-2,
5.02 in 66 career big league innings with the Mets and Devil Rays. The
Cuban starter will likely remain a mystery until 20 minutes before game
time, a strategy typical of manager Higinio Velez.
the lines will be the best players the two countries could field. The
stands will again be packed – the game was sold out less than four days
after tickets went on sale in January.
On Wednesday, the
anti-Castro groups protested outside the stadium as the Cuban team
warmed up inside. Many of those same activists are expected to be
inside the stadium tonight.
Let the bedlam begin.
Japan, Korea Fall In Tuneups
Dickey and John Danks combined to allow one run over six innings to
lead the Texas Rangers to a 8-4 victory against Japan in a World
Baseball Classic exhibition game held Thursday night at Surprise
Japan gave ace Daisuke Matsuzaka the start, a day
after beating the Mariners 6-5 in a tuneup game, and Matsuzaka got no
decision with four innings of two-hit ball. He allowed one unearned
run. Lefthander Tsuyoshi Wada, generally considered Japan’s No. 3
starter, got the loss, giving up three hits and three runs (two earned)
in two innings.
Japan finished second in Pool A and is
preparing for second round play in the inaugural World Baseball Classic
next week in Anaheim.
For the Rangers, second baseman Ian
Kinsler finished 2-for-3 with a double and RBI. Shortstop Joaquin Arias
was also 2-for-3 with a run scored and RBI. Minor league outfielder
Luke Grayson had a two-run single as part of the four-run four-run
Dickey scattered five hits and struck out three in
three innings. He gave way to Danks, who after giving up a leadoff
single in the fourth, retired the next eight batters and faced the
minimum nine batters. He earned the win giving up one hit and striking
out one in three scoreless innings. Scott Feldman added a scoreless
inning of work.
Meanwhile, Korea-winner of Pool A with an
upset 3-2 win against Japan-lost to the Royals 7-4 in the Cactus
League. Each team had nine hits as Korea gave big leaguers Chan Ho
Park, Jae Seo and Byung-Hyun Kim some work on the mound.
Dominican Republic manager Manny Acta tweaked his lineup for the game
against Italy, as Jose Reyes and Placido Polanco started at shortstop
and second base, replacing Miguel Tejada and Alfonso Soriano, who
started against Venezuela. He also started Wily Mo Pena in right and
had Juan Encarnacion in center, with Wily Taveras being pushed to the
bench. Pirates farmhand Ronny Paulino started at catcher over Alberto
“We wanted to give every player a chance to
participate and feel as though we have enough depth to do so,” Acta
said. “In the next round, that will probably change.”
biggest ovation of the DR-Italy game came in the bottom of the seventh
when Luis Polonia pinch-hit for Pena. The roar began before he was
announced as the Dominican fans on the third-base side could see him
getting ready to hit in the first-base dugout. The 42-year-old had a
career line of .293 /.342 /.383 in a 12-year career spent mostly with
the Athletics, Angels and Yankees. He also is one of the few Dominican
pros with international experience, heading up the nation’s team during
the 2003 Pan American Games.
• Alessandro Maestri had his
second straight rough outing. The Italian righthander worked only 1/3
of an inning and allowed a solo homer to Alou in the seventh. Against
Venezuela, he entered with the bases loaded in the seventh and threw a
wild pitch to allow Venezuela’s final run to score. The 20-year-old
recently signed with the Cubs and is the first player from the Italian
Baseball Academy to sign with a big league organization.
Contributing: Matt Meyers