USA Baseball's World Cup/Pan Am Games team got its biggest victory of the fall Monday afternoon, taking a 10-run lead and barely holding on to beat Cuba 12-10 at the Pan American Games. The victory put the Americans into the gold-medal game Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern against Canada, which beat host Mexico 5-3 Tuesday night.
It also ends Cuba's uninterrupted string of Pan Am golds. The United States won the Pan Am baseball competition in 1967, and Cuba has won every four years since then—10 consecutive tournaments since 1971. That string has included wins against amateur American clubs, such as in 2007 in Brazil and 1987 in Indianapolis, as well as the 1999 Pan Ams in Winnipeg, Canada, the first one with professionals in the baseball competition.
USA Baseball's pros lost 8-7 to Cuba in the World Cup earlier in the month, but reversed the result this time around by doing what Cuba did in that game—jump on the starter early. They banged out 11 hits overall and took advantage of six walks, then got just enough from the bullpen after righthander Todd Redmond (Braves) could give them just four innings.
"We jumped out to an early lead," manager Ernie Young said in a statement, "but at no point did we think we were going to run away with it. Cuba is a great team and their players showed their fight today. They never gave up, but neither did our guys, and we held on for the win."
It's the 15th game between Cuba and an American professional national team, and the U.S. improved to 8-7 with the victory. It was the most runs an American pro team has scored against Cuba in that 12-year span, dating back to the '99 Pan Ams.
"I'm fired up for our guys," said Young, a member of the 2000 Olympic team that beat Cuba for gold in Sydney. "I know exactly what it's like as a player to beat Cuba on a big international stage, and as excited as I am right now, I'm even more excited for our players.
"We've got one more game to go, and our guys know that . . . This team has seen its ups and downs this month, but we've never lost confidence. The players know exactly what they need to do tomorrow."
It was 12-2 U.S. before Cuba got back into it. Three hits, an error and a key two-run single by catcher Tuffy Gosewisch (Phillies) led to a five-run second inning that chased Cuban starter Freddy Alvarez. The U.S. kept scoring in the third, adding a two-run double in the third by first baseman Jimmy Gallagher (White Sox), who essentially has replaced a banged-up Brett Jackson (Cubs) in the U.S. lineup.
After Cuba put up two runs in the bottom of the third, the U.S. took its biggest lead with a five-run fourth, as Joey Thurston (Marlins), Tommy Mendonca (Rangers) and Jordy Mercer (Pirates) had run-scoring doubles, Mendonca driving home two. Cuba kept scoring off the American bullpen, though, with Rudy Reyes hitting a two-run homer and Cuba closing within 12-10 with a three-spot in the eighth.
But righthanders Justin Cassel (White Sox) and Scott Patterson (Mariners) were able to get the last six outs. While Cassel walked two, he wasn't charged with a run while getting two outs in the eighth. Patterson struck out Yosvany Alarcon with the bases loaded to end the eighth, then gave up a two-out single to Alexei Bell while getting the last three outs in the ninth.
"This is the fifth time I've played Cuba, and we finally beat them," said Mercer, a member of the '07 College National Team that played in the Pan Ams and one of seven Americans to drive in a run Monday. "I told the guys that Cuba will never give up and to keep battling, and sure enough they came back. It's just a credit to this team that we kept fighting."
Thurston extended his hit streak to 14 games for Team USA and leads the team with a .435 average. He had a in hit in Saturday's dramatic 3-2 loss to Mexico, but the Americans' loss in that one didn't keep the team from the four-team medal round—or from setting up a shot at a redemptive victory Monday.
Canada overcame a three-run first-inning homer off Shawn Hill by Mexico's Jorge Guzman, who hit 39 homers this season for Veracruz in the Mexican League. Hill recovered, allowing only two more baserunners and striking out three through five innings.
The Canadians rallied with two in the second, keyed by an RBI double Jamie Romak (Royals) and a wild pitch. Canada took the lead in the fifth. Singles by Chris Robinson (Cubs) and Tim Smith (Royals) and a walk to Jimmy Van Ostrand (Astros) loaded the bases, and Shawn Bowman (Braves) tied the game with an RBI single. Another wild pitch put Canada in the lead 4-3, and Skyler Stromsmoe (Giants) made it 5-3 in the sixth with a solo homer.
Dustin Molleken (Rockies) and Chris Kissock (Phillies) each pitched two scoreless innings to secure the victory and set up the showdown with the U.S., whom Canada has beaten in their only official matchup, 6-1 in the World Cup. The two teams scrimmaged each other in Cary, N.C., in late September prior to the World Cup, played once in Panama and then were rained out in the World Cup bronze-medal game.
Gold will be on the line Tuesday. The game can be watched online at 8 p.m. Eastern time here.