By Eric Edwards
November 2, 2003
PANAMA CITY, Panama–The downtime just helped fuel the machine.
With assembly line efficiency, Cuba, sidelined for the first three days of the tournament by rain, cranked out another victory Sunday night. Ariel Pestano drove in three runs and righthander Vichoandry Odelin struck out 12 over eight innings in his team’s 4-2 victory over Puerto Rico.
“It doesn’t matter that we’re the World Cup Champions, or champions of whatever tournament; we stress each game equally,” said Cuban manager Higidio Velez. “We knew we were facing a tough opponent and did what we needed to win.”
Cuba is now 2-0 in the elimination phase of the Americas qualifier for the 2004 Olympic Games, with its first victory coming courtesy of a forfeit from the Bahamas, which pulled out of the tournament. Puerto Rico falls to 1-2. Puerto Rico will pick up its second win by forfeit Tuesday and finish the preliminary phase of the 10-country tournament with a 2-2 record.
Since Canada and Cuba, both 2-0, play head-to-head Wednesday, the best Puerto Rico can finish is in third place in Group A, meaning it will have to place the second-place team from Group B, which will likely be either the United States or Panama.
Pestano singled home the tie-breaking run in the fourth inning, and added a two-run home run off of Puerto Rico starter Josue Matos (Mariners) in the sixth that gave Odelin a cushion to work with.
Odelin, who was not at his best on two days’ rest in his last outing against Panama in the title game of last month’s World Cup, looked unhittable early, striking out the side in the first inning and retiring the first seven Puerto Rican hitters he faced.
“(Odelin) has a great repertoire of pitches,” said Puerto Rico manager Sandy Alomar Sr. “You have to give him a lot credit. He made some pretty good hitters look bad.”
Angel Pagan (Mets) drew a one-out walk, but Odelin retired Raul Nieves (Red Sox) and struck out Luis Figueroa to end the inning.
Puerto Rico finally broke through in the fourth with two outs as Omar Garcia singled, advanced to second base on a wild pitch, and scored on a single to center field by Hiram Bocachica (Tigers).
The only other damage Puerto Rico could manage against Odelin was Pagan’s eighth-inning home run.
Cuban closer Pedro Lazo allowed a two-out single to Garcia in the ninth, but got Bocachica to line back to the mound for the save.
With the withdrawal of Bahamas, Puerto Rico will now have four days off before beginning the crossover quarterfinals. Puerto Rico manager Sandy Alomar Sr. said he would use Omar Olivares, Jonathan Albaladejo (Pirates) or Stevenson Agosto in the quarterfinals, depending on the opponent.
“It depends on the lineup we’ll be facing,” said Alomar. “It will be one of those guys, but we can’t say for sure until we know who we’re going to be playing.”
Around The Tournament
Team USA’s pool-play game against Brazil, rained out Saturday, has been rescheduled for Thursday at 12 noon. The game will only be played if it will affect which four teams will move on to the crossover quarterfinals from Group B. If the game is played the Team USA will be forced to play four games in four days–its final three preliminary round games (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) and its quarterfinal game (Friday). Team USA is also off Monday and plays Colombia on Tuesday. Horacio Ramirez (Braves) will be the starter against Colombia as he tunes up for what would be the most important start of the tournament for Team USA–a semifinal game on Nov. 9. Team USA has to get to that game first, of course, but it would have to win a semifinal to qualify for the 2004 Olympics. MLB.com reports the Team USA staff is discussing whom to start in the quarterfinal; it will be either lefty Jason Stanford (Indians), who defeated Nicaragua on Friday with seven sterling innings, or righthander Justin Duchscherer (Athletics), who is struggling with stomach problems.
In other action Sunday, Panama (2-0) pounded Nicaragua (0-2) 11-5 in a game played in Aguadulce, a three-hour drive from the capital, Colombia (1-1) surprised Brazil (0-1) 5-4 and Canada won by forfeit as the Bahamas failed to show up at the competition. Team USA had the day off.
Cuba played without first baseman Kendry Morales, who has left the tournament. Cuban manager Velez said Morales asked to return to Cuba to attend to “personal matters.” “He asked for our permission to leave and we gave it to him,” said Velez. Other reports out of Panama say Morales was surprised by Cuban security officials while meeting with an American scout and sent home. Morales, 20, batted cleanup for Cuba during the recent World Cup and is a switch-hitter with power. He was one of Cuba’s heroes in the World Cup with a walk-off, game-winning two-run homer to beat Brazil in a quarterfinal game.