By Eric Edwards
November 6, 2003
PANAMA CITY, Panama–Riding high after scoring 16 runs in its first two games, the Canadian offense had a broomstick stuck in its spokes Wednesday by Cuban lefthander Ediel Palma and the highlight-reel defense of international baseball’s dynasty.
Cuba (3-0) pounded Canada 7-2 to finish its perfect run through the preliminary round of the Americas Olympic qualifier at Estadio Nacional.
Palma allowed three hits over seven innings and struck out 10 batters while Cuba’s ninth hitter, Carlos Tabares, went 4-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored in the victory.
“I wanted to keep the ball down against them and I did,” said Palma, who faced a team with 11 lefthanded hitters out of its 15 position players. “I knew I had to be careful, they have a very good lineup. I hit my spots and changed speeds and was able to come out OK.”
Two diving plays helped extract Palma from potential trouble in the fourth and fifth innings–a charging headfirst grab by right fielder Roberquis Videaux robbed Stubby Clapp (Braves) starting the fourth, and third baseman Michel Enrique turned what looked by sure hit by Jeremy Ware (Expos) into a 5-4-3 double play two batters into the fifth.
Canadian starter Jason Dickson received no such assistance. The Canadians committed three errors behind the righthander, two of which led to Cuba’s first four runs as a close game unraveled into a blowout.
“Any time you give a team like Cuba that may extra outs, it’s going to burn you,” said Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt.
Cuba will open the crossover quarterfinals Saturday against Brazil, who finished fourth in Group B. “By finishing first we made sure we won’t get the top seed in the other group in the semifinals,” said Cuban manager Hignio Velez.
Canada, which finished second in Group A, will play the third-place team in Group B, Colombia. That means Puerto Rico will face Panama on Friday; Mexico faces Team USA. Whitt said righthander Mike Meyers (Cubs) will pitch in the quarterfinals Saturday and Mike Johnson will take the mound in the semifinals Sunday. Canada and Team USA would face each other in the semifinal if both teams win their quarterfinal games.
“We would have liked to have won this game, but now we know what we have ahead of us. We have two ballgames to win,” said Whitt. “Our pitching is set up just as we wanted it.”
Cuba scored its first run in the third with help from Canadian third baseman Matt Logan. After Tabares led off the inning with a single, Logan misplayed a ground ball by Eduardo Paret, putting runners at first and second. Enrique then moved them over with a sacrifice bunt and Tabares scored on a ground out by Yulieski Gourriel. Logan is playing third base largely because a knee injury has hampered the lateral movement of Todd Betts, limiting him to DH.
The Cubans added three more runs in the sixth under similar circumstances.
After Dickson hit Eriel Sanchez with a pitch and yielded a single to Frederich Cepeda to start the inning, shortstop Kevin Nicholson (Pirates) couldn’t come up with a slow roller by Ariel Pestano, loading the bases.
Nicholson had a chance to turn a double play when the next batter, Juan Pedroso, hit a sharp two-hopper at him, but was slow to get rid of the ball, and the Canadians were only able to get the force out at second as the Cubans scored their second run.
After reliever Shawn Hill (Expos) struck out Videaux, Tabares and Paret lined consecutive run-scoring singles for a 4-0 Cuban advantage.
The Cubans added three more runs in the seventh as Canadian reliever Brett Gray (Reds) hit Juan Pedroso with a pitch to force in their fifth run, and Tabares added a two-run single to cap the Cuban scoring.
“I was concentrating well. But luck had a bit to do with it, too,” said Tabares. “Sometimes you hit the ball hard and it’s right at someone, sometimes you find the open space. I found the open space four times “
Palma didn’t walk a batter and allowed only a two-out single to Logan in the third and a single to Betts starting the fifth. Betts was erased by Enrique’s sensational double play.
The Canadians scored their only run against Palma in the seventh when Clapp tripled into the right-field gap and scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly by Justin Morneau.
“(Palma) had very good control,” said Whitt. “He had kept us off balance and didn’t make any mistakes.”
Canada added another run in the eighth against when Ryan Radmanovich hit a solo home run off of reliever Jordel Martinez.
Whitt was clearly bothered after the game by the Cuban team’s comportment on the field. In the opening inning, one of Cuba’s coaches forced Canada’s first- and third-base coaches to move back into the coach’s boxes. Whitt also complained about the Cubans persistent trash-talking, especially their catcher, Pestano.
“They are a heck of a team; they don’t need to do that,” said Whitt. “It’s something you hear from each team after they play Cuba. They try to get under your skin. It’s just totally unnecessary and not right in a competition like this.’
Cuban manager Velez said he hadn’t decided who will pitch in the quarterfinals, but it will be one of his top two righthanders, Vichoandry Odelin or Norge Vera.