Far from the glare of Major League Baseball's postseason, Chris Archer (Cubs) pulled off a signature performance Monday night. The righthander struck out 10 Cubans in six two-hit, scoreless innings and didn't walk a batter, helping USA Baseball's Pan Am Qualifier team to a 4-1 victory. USA Baseball's professional teams have won four of their last five matchups against Cuba.
The Americans improved to 9-0 in the tournament and pulled off a second straight win against Cuba, which it also beat in the 2009 World Cup gold-medal game. Cuba's last win against American pros came in the 2008 Olympics, beating then-collegian Stephen Strasburg, who was the lone amateur on the bronze-medal Team USA.
Brian Barden (Marlins), a member of that Olympic roster, played shortstop for Team USA on Monday and had a hit that helped start the two-run rally in the third, giving Archer a lead he never relinquished. Mike Moustakas (Royals)—who faced Cuban starter Vladimir Garcia four years ago in an 18U tournament—had a two-out, two-run double down the left-field line that scored Barden and Mike Trout (Angels), who had followed Barden's hit with a single of his own.
Non-40-man roster players comprise this American club, and they've dominated the tournament both with bats like Trout (hitting .361 with three homers so far) and outstanding pitching from the likes of Mike Montgomery (Royals), Todd Redmond (Braves) and Archer.
Monday was no different against a Cuban lineup that features most of the island's best hitters. The top six members of the lineup are all stars of Cuban baseball—second baseman Hector Olivera, right fielder Alexei Bell, third baseman Yulieski Gourriel, left fielder Alfredo Despaigne, DH Frederich Cepeda and center fielder Yoennis Cespedes.
Archer mowed them down anyway with relief help from lefty Nick Hill (Mariners), who struck out three but also gave up a run in the eighth and four hits while registering five outs; and righthander Anthony Carter (White Sox), who got the save by recording the final four outs.
The U.S. out-hit Cuba 9-7 and made it 4-0 in the sixth, chasing Garcia, who led Cuba's Serie Nacional in strikeouts and wins in 2009-10. He walked Moustakas to lead off the inning, then gave up a hit to veteran DH Brad Eldred (Rockies) before giving way to reliever Dalier Hinojosa. Eric Hosmer (Royals) then reached on an error by first baseman Jose Abreu, with Moustakas scoring on the play while Eldred was thrown out at home. Hosmer scored the fourth run of the game on a wild pitch.
Cuba rallied off Hill twice. In the seventh, Despaigne and Cepeda had two-out singles, but Hill fanned Cespedes on three pitches to end the inning. Hill then struck out Abreu and veteran Cuban catcher Ariel Pestano to start the eighth before pinch-hitter Michel Enriquez singled and Olivera drove him home with a triple. Carter relieved and retired Bell—whose single-season home run and RBI records in Cuba recently were broken by Despaigne—on a fly to center.
Carter faced the heart of the order in the ninth to nail down the win, retiring Gourriel and Despaigne on flies to Trout in center before giving up a two-out double to the venerable Cepeda. Carter got Cespedes to pop out for the final out.
Team USA now has qualified for both the 2011 Pan Am Games in Mexico, as well as the 2011 IBAF World Cup, date and site still TBA. Now the Americans aim to win the Pan Am Qualifier, entering the third and final round of play as the top seed and lone undefeated club.
The Americans play the Dominican Republic tonight at 7:30 p.m. local time. If they win, they advance to Wednesday's championship game against the winner of Tuesday's Cuba-Venezuela contest.
In other games of note, Canada beat host Puerto Rico 14-6, clinching qualification in both 2011 tournaments. Catcher Chris Robinson (Cubs) had five hits in six trips to lead the way for the Canadians.